The Lee High baseball team, under new head coach John Dowling this spring, opened the season up by splitting a pair of games at the Langley High Ice Breaker Invitational last week. The Lancers, in their season-opener last Thursday night, March 15, could not hold onto a large lead in an 8-6 loss to Washington-Lee High of Arlington. But they came back the following night at the four-team Invitational with a 5-2 victory over Edison on Friday, March 16. Both games took place at Langley High School in Great Falls.
For Lee, winners of just a couple games last year, the win over the geographically-close Eagles (Franconia) was a nice early season confidence booster for the team and a victory Coach Dowling, who served as associate head coach at Forest Park (Woodbridge) the past four years, will long treasure because it was his first `W’ as a head coach.
Brad Hahn, a 6-foot-3 inch senior pitcher, earned the win for Lee, allowing two runs over five innings. The team co-captain gave up five hits, struck out five and walked four.
Dowling did not allow Hahn to pitch further into the game due to pitch-count considerations and it being early in the season.
“Brad threw well for us,” said Dowling. “I'm sure if it was up to him he'd have stayed in and thrown 10 innings if he needed to. He's a tough kid who knows how to compete and keeps an even keel while he's between the lines.”
Lee junior Will Smith threw two relief innings of shutout ball for the save, giving up a pair of hits and walking two.
At the plate, Lee received a big game from senior Logan Cubbage, who homered and scored two runs. Smith, meanwhile, had a base hit and scored twice as well.
Cubbage began the game at second base for Lee before moving to shortstop in the fourth inning after Lancer starting shortstop Jack Milewski, a sophomore, was hit in the face by a thrown ball on an Edison steal attempt. Milewski, despite wanting to remain in the game, was taken out.
“He was trying to keep the throw from the catcher in front of him,” said Dowling. “He was bleeding pretty badly from his upper lip and was adamant about staying in the game but the trainer forced him to leave. He went to the ER after the game and got stitches.”
Lee’s defense, which struggled in the prior day’s loss to Washington-Lee, was a strong point in the Edison game as the Lancers had just one error.
“We’ve got pitchers that throw strikes, so when we play solid defense we will be successful,” said Dowling, a member of the social studies department at Lee. “We took care of the baseball and made the plays we are supposed to make.”
The Lancers, in Thursday’s loss to W-L, had made several errors in the late innings as the Generals rallied from a 6-0 deficit to win. Lee starting pitcher Greg Zajic gave his team four solid innings of work. Over the first two innings the junior fanned four Edison batters.
Meanwhile, at the plate, Lee scored a run in the first inning and broke out for five in the third to take the 6-0 lead. Smith, a right-handed batter, highlighted the big third inning with a three-run home run over the left field fence. Smith, Lee’s left fielder, also had a double in the game.
Washington-Lee, under longtime head coach Doug Grove, scored three runs in the fifth inning to get back into the game. Zajic’s pitch count rose that inning, prompting Dowling to take him out of the game.
Zajic finished with seven strikeouts and four walks.
“Greg threw very well and did more than give us a chance to win the game,” said Dowling, of the right-hander who was also a starter in the Lee rotation last year as a sophomore. “He’s a competitor and disappointed I pulled him out. At this point in the season I wouldn’t run him out there for 100 pitches.” In the sixth, Edison scored five more times with most of the runs being unearned due to the fielding struggles, which had also hurt the Lancers in the fifth. So Washington-Lee, which had trailed 6-0, was now up 8-6 and went on to get the win.
“Really, it was two bad innings of defense,” said Dowling.
Lee junior Nick Atwell pitched two-2/3 innings of relief, allowing one earned run and striking out one.
DOWLING WAS HIRED as Lee’s new head coach last July. At Forest Park last spring as associate head coach of the Bruins (Northwest Region), Dowling was part of a ball club which won the Cardinal District.
Now at Lee, Dowling is at the helm of a team which competes in the brutally tough Patriot District, where over recent years Patriot teams such Lake Braddock, West Springfield, and defending Northern Region champion South County have been among the elite teams in the state.
The Lancers, in fact, were set to play two of those teams this week – a home game versus Lake Braddock on Wednesday, March 21, and a game at South County this Friday night, March 23 at 6:30.
Dowling, who grew up in upper state New York and attended and played baseball at Ithica College (N.Y.), wants his new team to embrace the rigors of playing in such a powerful district.
“The Northern Region and in particular the Patriot District provides a unique opportunity for us because year-in and year-out you have some of the best teams in the state. It’s a great opportunity to challenge ourselves.
“We’re harping on putting a competitive team on the field every day,” said Dowling. “The most important attribute for us is to compete hard every day.”
The coach said the Lancers’ foundation will be practicing at a high level and maintaining a positive attitude, both individually and as a team.
“Practice is the most important thing we do,” said Dowling. “We can’t control who we play. Our objective is to go out there every game and put a competitive team on the field. We have some good young talent.”
Lee’s team co-captains this season are Hahn and senior utility man/catcher Robert Sutton.
Dowling said he has an outstanding group of assistant coaches in Joe Kurz (head JV coach), Greg Bartley, and Andrew Heard.
The new skipper is thrilled and grateful for the overwhelming support he has received from the Lee High community, including director of student activities Lori Barb, Dowling’s assistants, the Lancer team players and parents, and the school’s student body.