By Dan Sousa
South Riding (Mar. 21, 2011) – It is so early in the season that Freedom High School second-year baseball coach Jason Treon hadn’t formalized a sign for a squeeze bunt yet so he simply called over sophomore Zach Newell Friday night with the game on the line in extra innings against Dulles District power Potomac Falls.
“Coach called me over and said we don’t have a sign for a squeeze bunt yet, but you are laying one down right now,” said Newell who went to the plate with one out and junior Joey Plesce on third base. “I was kind of fired up when I went up there. There wasn’t time to be nervous. I got a perfect pitch inside and I wanted to get it down the first base line.”
Newell’s clutch bunt allowed the speedy Plesce to slide across the plate to give the Eagles a shocking 2-1 victory in eight innings over the two-time defending district and Region II champion Panthers, a team that returned almost all their starters from last year’s school-record 23-4 AA state runner-up campaign.
The normally hard-hitting Panthers – 45-8 over the last two seasons and unbeaten before Friday in regular season district games since a May 9, 2008 loss to rival Broad Run – were kept off-balance by Freedom right-hander Andrew Lamont, who tossed a three-hit complete game gem, needing just 73 pitches for the win.
“He kept us off-balanced and threw his curve ball for strikes,” said Potomac Falls coach Joe Terango. “Hats off to them.”
For Terango and Treon it was a game of mixed emotions as Treon – the Dulles District Player of the Year in 2001 – not only played under Terango, the only coach since Potomac Falls opened in 1997, but Eagles assistants Danny Watkins and Robbie Bouman are also products of the proud Panther program.
“A lot of what we model ourselves on is what Coach Terango taught us … especially respecting the game,” said Treon.
Potomac Falls (1-1 overall and in district) had gone 26-0 in Dulles District regular season games the past two seasons and is a favorite to return to the state playoffs for a third straight season after a final four finish in 2009 and last year’s state title appearance. Both times the Panthers fell to Poquoson and current UVa pitcher Kyle Crockett.
Freedom (2-0 overall and district) on the other hand struggled to a 5-15 mark in Treon’s first season, including 6-0 and 13-2 losses to Potomac Falls. On Friday, however, Freedom took the field at home on a comfortable March evening with confidence on the mound in the form of the 6-foot-2 Lamont and in the field where the Eagles made nice defensive play after nice defensive play.
“Last year the focus was probably too much on offense, so this year we wanted to knuckle down and get better each day defensively and pitching,” said Treon who likes to talk to his players about the three faucets of the game – offense, fielding and defense. “When you do two of the three you have a pretty good chance to win.”
Potomac Falls also had two of the three areas covered as senior lefty Ryan Mahoney threw a 3-hitter threw seven innings, with the only run allowed coming across on a balk in the fourth inning after Eagle junior Dylan Chapman had doubled to the fence in center and then moved to third on junior Matt Malacane’s line drive single into right.
After the balk -- called on a move that Mahoney had Malacane picked off of first base -- brought Chapman across, Mahoney stranded Malacane in scoring position with a grounder to short and then a strikeout. Mahoney finished with six strikeouts and two walks before giving way to reliever, senior John Fisher in the eighth inning.
The lightning quick game came courtesy of two starters, both throwing strikes, with Mahoney needing just 77 pitches, 54 of them strikes, to toss seven innings and Lamont throwing 54 strikes among his 73 pitches in the eight inning win.
“It just clicked from the first inning,” said Lamont. “My curve ball was working for the most part and when I missed, I missed in the dirt.”
Treon said that Lamont creates a lot of soft contact and indeed the junior forced the Panthers into 14 groundouts in the win. The few balls that did leave the infield were strung together in the fifth inning as Potomac Falls tied the contest.
Panther senior Ryan Miller led off the inning with a line drive into center for a single followed by senior Colin Deely’s flare into short left field for another single. After senior Matt Hoover sacrificed the runners over, pinch hitter Jackson Rogers hit a sacrifice fly to center to score Miller, tying the game 1-1.
Lamont ended the rally with a nice fielding play of his own but the Panthers appeared ready to take the lead the next inning as junior Tyler Rice hit a gapper to the wall for a one-out triple. Mahoney followed with a safety squeeze bunt but the ball didn’t get far enough out in front of the plate and Eagle catcher Dylan Teal was able to get the ball, freeze Rice at third, and throw out Mahoney for the second out.
Panther clean-up hitter Michael Lascomb then hit a slow roller to Chapman at third, who gunned the ball to first where Mark Muhlenberg made a nice scoop for the third out.
While Lamont was retiring the final eight Panthers he faced, the Eagles showed some patience at he plate, working a pair of walks in the sixth that didn’t result in any runs but in the eighth inning, No. 9 hitter Plesce walked and then took second base on a passed ball.
“I was trying to get on base any way I could,” said Plesce.
After a groundout moved him to third, it was time for Newell and Plesce to execute the game-winning bunt.
“I had to see the ball down and then I just went. I had to go for it and when I slid I knew I was in,” said Plesce who still had a good bit of dirt on his uniform to prove it.
As Plesce popped up from the cloud of dust, he was mobbed by teammates from the Eagles bench.
“It was the greatest feeling in the world,” said Plesce. “This win feels stupendous. Tremendous. Whatever word you want to use for it!”
Potomac Falls had a chance to strike early after Miller’s deep fly to center glanced off a glove to put him on second on the two-base error with one out. Lamont stranded Miller at third with a pair of groundouts.
Freedom 2, Potomac Falls 1 (8)
PF – 000 010 00 – 1 3 1
F -- 000 100 01 – 2 3 1
One out when winning run was scord
2B – Free: Champman. 3B – PF: Rice. RBI – PF: Rogers. Free: Newell.
Batteries – PF: Mahoney, Fisher (8) and Deely. Free: Lamont and Teal.