A couple of wins this week to close out the regular season would clinch first place for the Oakton High baseball team and give the Cougars the top seed for next week's Concorde District tournament.
Indeed, it has been a successful season for Oakton, which struggled through a 9-14 record a year ago. This year's Cougars, going into this week, were 14-4 and riding an impressive late season win streak of seven games. Oakton was scheduled to play at district opponent Centreville earlier this week on Tuesday, May 10. Then, this Friday night at 6:30, the Cougars will close the regular season schedule with a district home game versus defending district champion Westfield.
Oakton head coach Justin Janis said his team is playing good baseball but believes the Cougars need to play at an even higher level for the upcoming district and Northern Region playoffs.
"I think we're close to that level and have been playing pretty well lately," said Janis. "I think we have another [even higher] level. The guys have been finding ways to help the team and to produce."
Oakton played three games last week, defeating an improved Chantilly team, 5-3, in a district home game on Tuesday, May 3 before defeating district host Robinson, 7-2, three days later on Friday, May 6. Then, the following afternoon, Oakton stayed in town to take on private school and cross-town opponent Flint Hill School. There, the visiting Cougars defeated the Huskies, 10-4.
Flint Hill, a member of the private school Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAC), is under first year head coach Tom Verbanic, the former Fairfax High baseball coach who, in recent years, has worked as an assistant baseball coach at Westfield High School. Verbanic, also a longtime football coach in the Northern Region, is head football coach at Westfield.
Verbanic's Flint Hill baseball coaching staff includes the legendary Ron Tugwell, who for many years guided the West Springfield High baseball program to unparalleled region success.
"With coach Verbanic and coach Tugwell over there, you know you're going to play a good team," said Janis, who was impressed with the skill level of several of Flint Hill's players. "Some of their players are really good. It's always good to play good teams."
Oakton, in the win, received good games at the plate from senior team tri-captains Luke Willis (2 hits), who belted a three-run home run; Chad Carroll, who knocked around three doubles; and catcher Chris Hanson, who collected a pair of base hits.
On the mound, Oakton senior Walker Webster earned the win in four innings of work. Working out of the bullpen for the Cougars were Willis (2 innings) and senior Andy Gross (1 inning).
<b>IN THE WIN OVER ROBINSON</b>, Oakton received a solid outing from senior starting pitcher Taiyo Francis, who tossed an efficient 53 pitches over five innings of work to earn the decision. The pitcher had a no-hitter through the first four innings.
The district win over the Rams helped Oakton atone for an earlier season 5-1 home loss to Robinson on April 15.
"It was a huge win for us," said Janis, whose team improved to 7-1 in district games. "Any win is big in this district. Robinson beat us the first time and we wanted to play better this time around."
While Oakton is excited with the onset of the playoffs, set to begin next week, Janis stressed that his club is not looking past the district games this week against Centreville and second place Westfield (14-3 overall, 6-2 district).
"Right now, we're still fighting for the No. 1 seed in the regular season," said the coach.