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Oakton Baseball Could Contend in Tough Concorde District

Pitching strong Cougars must develop into a consistently good team at the plate.

Oakton High third year baseball coach Justin Janis is fairly pleased with his team's early season pitching and defense this spring. But the key to how the Cougars will fare this season, perhaps, will be determined by how well they can hit the baseball and score runs.

Thus far, Oakton has hit the ball fairly well, scoring in double digits in its season opening win at Yorktown, 12-1, on March 15, and again in an 11-1 home win over non-Northern Region opponent Loudoun Valley last week on March 29. The Cougars were held in check offensively in a 4-2 setback against visiting cross-town rival Madison on the afternoon of Saturday, March 19.

"We've played solid baseball for the most part," said Janis, of his club. "We've pitched very well and played good defense. The question will be how we score runs."

Oakton's top pitchers include starters Taiyo Francis, a senior, junior RJ Garcia, and senior Andy Gross, who will also be utilized as a closer out of the bullpen at times.

"Taiyo is very good at mixing his pitches up and can throw any pitch at any count," said Janis. "He's not overpowering but keeps hitters off balance. For RJ, the big thing for him is he has good movement on the ball and he has a good slider."

Gross, who will be used as Oakton's No. 3 starter, was perhaps the Cougars' most effective pitcher a year ago when Janis' squad went 9-14, qualifying for the 16-team region playoffs as a result of an extra innings win over Herndon in a Concorde District tournament quarterfinals game in which Gross pitched six effective innings in.

OAKTON'S TEAM CAPTAINS this season are seniors Luke Willis, a center fielder and fourth year varsity starter who will be playing collegiate ball at Coastal Carolina University (S.C.) next year; shortstop Chad Carroll, a future James Madison University player who can also be used out of the Cougars' bullpen; and catcher Chris Hanson, a third-year varsity starter.

Janis said Hanson, Oakton's clean-up hitter, is a solid defensive catcher with a strong arm.

"He's just a good baseball player," said the coach, of Hanson's outstanding feel for the game.

Willis, from the No. 3 position in the batting order, is Oakton's best hitter and has great range in center field.

"He's very athletic and covers a lot of ground," said Janis. "He has a strong arm and is our most consistent hitter."

Carroll, Oakton's leadoff hitter, is a fiery, competitive ball player who makes good things happen for the Cougars at the top of the line-up and has a strong throwing arm at shortstop.

"He has set the tone for us so far," said Janis.

The coach said his line-up has the potential to be a good hitting team from top to bottom.

"I think we'll be pretty solid one through nine," he said. "We'll have to be a good situational [hitting team] and put the ball into play."

Oakton was scheduled to play district games this week versus visiting Herndon on Tuesday, April 5 and at Chantilly this Friday night, April 8 at 6:30. Over the upcoming spring break week, the Cougars will travel to Charleston, S.C. where they will participate in the 32-team HIT Tournament April 18-22.

Janis is confident that Oakton can have a successful 2011 season.

"I think we've got a chance to be a pretty decent team and to be in the mix among the top couple of teams in the district and to qualify for regionals," he said.