By Owen Gotimer Viva Loudoun College Editor
Leesburg (May 24, 2014) – Backed by solid defense, the Heritage High School baseball team escaped a sixth inning scare to defeat the Park View High School Patriots, 3-0, in the Conference 21 quarterfinals on May 23 in Leesburg.
“Defense has been a cornerstone of our program for a long time,” Heritage head coach Ryan Price said. “Defense has usually backed us up and given us an opportunity every night and the same thing tonight.”
In the top of the sixth inning, Park View threatened after a leadoff single from senior outfielder Sean Pittard was followed by senior outfielder Michael Pittinger’s second double of the game. Heritage starter Ryan Studebaker got the following Patriot Kyle Bland to hit a sacrifice fly to left field where Heritage outfielder Ben Taylor made the catch before firing to his cutoff man Zack Hopeck who got the ball home in time to beat the tagging Pittard.
“Our pitchers do a great job of keeping the ball down. They really let us actually work out there,” Heritage shortstop Jack Howard said. “When they put it in play, we normally do a good job keeping it in front of us making plays.”
The Pride defense stepped up again the very next batter. Junior pitcher Jason Leckemby hit an infield single to the left side, but Howard made a heads up playing throwing behind Pittinger – who rounded third base hard thinking a play would be made on Leckemby at first base.
“[Howard] came up and had one play on it which was to field it smooth and throw it to first. Once that wasn’t there, he went to plan B and knew there was still a runner in the infield and made a good read and a good throw,” Price said.
The Heritage run support also started thanks to Howard who in the third inning hit a sacrifice fly to right to plate Hopeck. The Pride added another run in the inning after a Park View error scored Taylor.
“You got to try to get runs in when there are guys in scoring position,” Howard said. “You try to do what you got to do: get the ball right side and in the air to get the run in. Just got to come out here and do what you got to do to win some games.”
Winning games is something the Pride have done well under Price. Over the last few seasons, however, the Patriots have struggled to put a tally in the win column. In the three seasons prior to 2014, Park View had won a total of four games. In that same time, Heritage had won 33.
“I think the new coaches with a more positive attitude helped. They actually believed in us,” said Pittinger, a four-year member of the varsity team at Park View. “Down the road if we get some more people interested in baseball at Park View we could compete in the conference. This game is what we had worked for all year. It just sucks that it’s over.”
The new coaching staff at Park View is led by longtime baseball coach Ralph DiBari who took over the Patriots program prior to the 2014 season.
“I know they’ve had some struggles the last few years, but we just tried not to dwell on the past and just look ahead all the time,” DiBari said. “I’m real proud of these kids. They could’ve packed it up early. We started off 0-6. But they kept plugging.”
DiBari said a major goal of his this season was to compete, and a 3-0 loss to the Dulles District’s No. 2 team in the conference quarterfinals, proved that his team did just that.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get some key hits and they did. Heritage has got a great ball club,” DiBari said. “I’m real proud of the guys. They showed a real good effort today. One of our goals was to compete, and they certainly competed.”
While three wins does not seem like much in a single season, parents, players and coaches around the county have noticed the changes DiBari has made to Park View baseball.
“He’s done a lot of big things with that program over there even since the first time we played them and now,” Heritage assistant coach Kristian Ellingsen said.
DiBari returned the compliment to the Heritage coaching staff and wished them the best of luck.
“Coach Price has done a great job over here at Heritage. I wish them the best of luck on Tuesday,” DiBari said. “I wish them well. They got to represent the Dulles District.”
Price will lead his team into the Conference 21 semifinals on May 27 when the Pride take on the Sherando Warriors at home. In 2013, the Warriors took home the VHSL AA state championship.
“They got a lot of history over there. We knew we had a chance at that same [championship] last year too,” Price said.
The Pride may have to overcome their biggest obstacle of the season to make a run to the state tournament and that obstacle is not the 2013 state champs.
Heritage’s starting shortstop and Saint Joseph’s commit Nick Fuhrmann sustained an injury this week playing in a regular season game. Aforementioned, Price is certain Howard can fill Furhmann’s void at shortstop, but not many in the county could fill his shoes in the batter’s box.
“Defensively obviously you never want to take a Division I baseball player off the field, but we’ve got a good group of kids here: all can play pretty much any position anytime you need them to,” Price said. “A lot of coaches would be very pleased to have Jack Howard as their shortstop. I’m pleased to have him there now and in the future. It’s nice that we have a solid backup plan when your starter is not there.”
Hopeck 2-2, BB, R, RBI, SB
Howard RBI, sac fly
Taylor 1-3, 2B, R
Koehler 1-3, ROE
Wahl R, SB
Studebaker 1-2, BB
Pittinger 2-3, 2 2B
Bland sac fly
Pyron BB, HBP
Studebaker W 7 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 5 H, BB, HBP, 6 K
Leckemby L 6 IP, 3 R, 2 ER, 5 H, 3 BB, 8 K
Owen Gotimer is a graduate of Heritage High School in Leesburg and will enter his senior year at Syracuse University this fall. Follow Owen on Twitter (@BigO_Gotimer) for up-to-date college signings and news. Contact us if you want Owen to do an article on the college commitment of your favorite local athlete or a story on a Loudoun County graduate playing in college