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    Ashburn nips Leesburg in American Legion baseball

    With the annual celebration of American independence a couple days away, Loudoun’s two American Legion ballclubs met July 2 at Heritage High School to celebrate the American pastime by turning in one of the season’s better-played baseball games.

    The visiting Ashburn Knights of Post 2001 emerged with a narrow 3-2 victory over the Leesburg Rangers of Post 34 as both squads enter the regular season’s second half for Legion’s senior (19-and-under) level.

    With the win, Ashburn climbs to 5-5, standing in the middle of the 12-team District 16 standings, while Leesburg is near the bottom at 2-8.

    Two long rows of zeros were put up by starters Matt Irish of Leesburg and Kyle McCormack of Ashburn, both of whom found the strike zone with multiple pitches to keep opposing hitters off-stride.

    “I think we came out on top because of our pitching,” Ashburn manager Bill Mason said. “McCormack threw 85 good pitches for us, we had our lefty come in to eat a couple innings, then we had a starter come in and shut them down. Leesburg’s a good opponent and Matt Irish is a great pitcher. I just think luck was on our side in the end.”

    The runless duel was broken in the bottom of the fifth when Josh Martin’s deep two-out drive to the left-center fence was dropped by Ashburn left fielder Matt Hough, permitting Ian Roberts to reach home.

    But the deciding frame was the top of the seventh. The Knights tallied all three of their runs then, aided by Leesburg’s only two errors of the game and an Irish wild pitch.

    “It was just one-half of one inning. We got into some pressure situations and started to boot the ball,” Leesburg manager Steven Ross said. “We came out of it pretty quickly and played good defense again, but couldn’t make up for it.”

    Ashburn lefty Andrew Robertsson was credited with the mound victory as his one and one-third innings sandwiched that three-run seventh. Bobby Mason went two and two-thirds innings to earn the save, punctuated by striking out all three Rangers he faced in the ninth.

    Ashburn’s Ty Mocabee twice sliced deep drives to left for opposite-field doubles. Alex Wynn notched the Knights’ only RBI on the night with a fielder’s choice ground ball.

    Leesburg’s Daniel Gershen, playing on his old high school field, prevented a run in the sixth when his strong throw from right easily cut down Mocabee at the plate.

    An inning later, Gershen produced a run when he demolished a Robertsson offering, depositing it deep beyond the left-center fence for a solo shot that brought the Rangers within one.

    Robertsson then surrendered a Mitchell Bowers single and a Martin double before relinquishing mound duties to Mason. Leesburg’s Michael Lord then missed a squeeze bunt, hanging Bowers out for a rundown and disrupting the Rangers’ momentum.

    Leesburg again managed to put a man on third in the eighth, but Mason stranded him there.

    Irish took the hard-luck loss for Leesburg despite pitching seven solid innings, scattering nine hits and striking out nine on 87 pitches. Chris Harold tossed two clean innings of relief for the home side.

    “Matt’s probably our No. 1,” said Ross of Irish, who utilized a curve and a changeup with a well-placed fastball. “He was fantastic. He gives us strikes and keeps us in games, and he showed that tonight. We just gave them five, six outs in that one inning.”

    Ashburn sweeps the two-game season series between the two Loudoun clubs. The Knights took a lopsided win over the Rangers to open the season June 6 at Stone Bridge High School.

    Both teams were missing key personnel but expect to be at full strength for the eight-team District 16 tournament, a double-elimination affair set to begin July 21 at Fireman’s Field in Purcellville. The Knights will enter the district tournament as its defending champions.

    “I really feel we’ll be strong in the post-season when we have a complete squad and can set up our pitching game by game by game,” said Mason, who played this game with just 13 of his 18 players. “When we have everybody back, we can be very strong.”

    The Rangers, victims of several close defeats throughout the campaign, must add to their win total to earn a place in Purcellville. Ross pointed to his team’s improved offense since the season’s beginning.

    “I think we can be competitive with anyone in the district, and we showed that tonight. I know it’s a cliché, but on any given night we can hang and beat anybody,” Ross said. “I think we’re gonna string together some wins and then surprise some people come tournament time.”

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