A late innings rally by the Langley Saxons fell just short as Madison High, behind the springboard of a big first inning, won Monday night’s Liberty District tournament baseball game finals, 8-7.
Madison (16-5), the tournament’s No. 3-seed playing in front of a large, partisan home crowd on its school campus in Vienna, held off a determined, No. 5-seed Langley team that never stopped believing or playing hard even after it fell behind 8-2 after five innings.
The Saxons broke through for five runs in the top of the sixth inning to get within 8-7. Then, in their final at-bats in the seventh, they put their leadoff hitter on base – an infield single by No. 3 batter Matt Moser – and looked poised for final inning dramatics.
But the next Langley batter, clean-up hitter Michael Byrne, rifled a hard line drive that initially looked as if it might get through for a base hit. But Madison second baseman Tim Davis, a junior who was not in the starting line-up, caught the hard hit ball before throwing to first baseman Johnny Graham to double up the runner for the huge double play.
Madison right-handed pitcher Nate Favero, a junior second baseman who had been called on in relief during the previous five-run Langley sixth inning, induced the next Langley hitter to ground the ball to Davis, who picked it up and threw to Graham for the game’s final out, clinching the district title for the Warhawks and setting off a spontaneous, on-field Madison celebration.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it was pretty intense,” said Favero, of the pressure he felt on the mound during his 1-2/3 innings of work. “That was the toughest situation I’ve ever been in during my baseball career.”
Favero, who bats left-handed, had homered for Madison way back in the first inning as the Warhawks built an early 4-1 lead. On the mound in the seventh inning, he was as happy as anyone when his defense got the key double play off of Byrne’s well hit ball, pretty much killing the Saxons’ final inning momentum.
“I wasn’t trying to strike [Byrne] out or anything, but wanted to rely on my teammates,” said Favero. “I really trust them.”
One batter later, after he had forced a grounder for the game’s final out, it was bedlam for the thrilled Warhawks who piled upon one another in celebratory fashion on the infield.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Favero, of the feeling of winning the title. “There’s nothing like it. This is what we worked for all year.”
<b>LANGLEY HEAD COACH</b> Kevin Healy, who saw his Saxons (12-12) reach the district finals with wins over No. 8 Jefferson, No. 4 Fairfax, and top-seeded Stone Bridge, was proud of his team’s marvelous run to the district finals where the Saxons were on the brink of an improbable title.
“These kids have battled their hearts out all year,” said Healy, whose team was just 6-8 in district games during the regular season before reeling off three straight victories at the district tournament. “They continue to do that.”
The coach said left-handed hitting Byrne’s seventh inning line drive that was caught could have been an extra base hit if had been a few feet to either side of second baseman Davis.
“Three feet one way or another, that balls in the gap and we tie the game,” he said.
Healy said his team stayed alert and confident even after falling behind Madison by scores of 4-1 and 8-2. The Saxons displayed their fortitude with their big five-run sixth inning in which the team batted around the order.
“It’s very easy to go in the tank [when you’re losing],” said Healy. “[In the sixth] we had great at-bats by kids lower down in the order. We were drilling the ball into the gap.”
<b>MADISON STARTING PITCHER</b> Dan Powers, a sophomore right-hander who earned the win, gave his team a championship caliber outing, working five strong innings in which he allowed two runs, struck out five, walked none and hit one batter. His first pitch of the game, to Langley leadoff batter Robert Hood in the top of the first inning, resulted in a line drive double pulled down the left field line. Later that inning, Hood scored on an RBI ground out by Byrne, and Powers and the Warhawks were in a quick 1-0 hole.
But Powers benefitted greatly from a Madison offense which, in the bottom of the first, stormed back with four runs, the result of a pair of two-run homers. With one on and one out, Favero, Madison’s No. 3 hitter in the line-up, pulled a high fly ball down the right field line which left the park for a two-run homer to give the Warhawks a 2-1 lead. Two batters later, after catcher Jay Kenyon grounded a single into left field, sophomore shortstop Andy McGuire sent a towering fly ball over the center field fence, a few feet left of the flag pole, and Madison was up 4-1.
Madison scratched out a run in the second on a bases-loaded walk to McGuire making it 5-1. There was no more scoring until the top of the fifth when Langley, with one out, got a single from Jeff Solomon followed by a ground-rule double into left field by pinch-hitter Colin Cantwell to put Saxon runners on second and third. That brought up Hood, whose sacrifice fly into right center field scored Solomon to get Langley within 5-2.
Madison, in its half of the fifth, appeared to put the game away with three runs. The Warhawks got three doubles in the inning, the two-baggers coming from McGuire, Joe Corrigan (RBI), and senior Alex Tyroler (RBI), Madison’s leadoff hitter. Another big hit that inning came on a run-scoring single into left field by pinch-hitter Matt Livingston.
So, ahead 8-2, Madison looked to be on its way to an easy win. But Langley broke out for five runs in the sixth. Big hits came from catcher Nick Amano-Dolan, who grounded an RBI single into right field; and Hood, who’s RBI double plated a run. Max Mraz hit a sacrifice fly and Brandon Bast had an RBI grounder.
Langley’s five-run sixth got the Saxons within 8-7 and that was the score heading into the seventh where Favero, the Madison reliever, got the final three outs as the Warhawks won the hard-fought game.
“It just didn’t turn out in the end,” said a disappointed Matt Moser, Langley’s junior third baseman who had three base hits in the game. “We’ve been through it all this season. When we’re down we know we can come back.”
Powers was the winning pitcher for Madison with his five strong innings of work.
“He pitched a really good game,” said Moser. “He kept his fastball on the outside.”
Favero, who earned the save, said he and his teammates never let down even when the Warhawks built their six-run lead.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Favero, of beating a talented Langley team. “We’ve had tough games this year. We were lucky to pull this out.”
Healy, the Langley coach, said his team thoroughly enjoyed the experience of playing in such a big game.
“They like the fact that people don’t expect us to win,” he said. “In the Fairfax and Stone Bridge games, people didn’t think we’d win. Hopefully we can continue [our good play] at regionals.”
Madison, which has won its share of district crowns over the years under coach Mark Gjormand, now has another banner for its gymnasium walls.
“Its tradition here,” said Favero, of Madison’s winning program. “We’re trying to follow it up. We’re wearing targets on our shirts because we’re Madison, so we have to bring it every day.”