The Stone Bridge Bulldogs’ season had begun to fade away as the sun set over Ashburn on a warm Friday night. The home side found themselves trailing 3-0 to a sound Oakton team in the sixth inning of a AAA Northern Region baseball tournament first round game.
But that’s when the Bulldogs (17-6) played a few magic tricks, making the deficit disappear and pulling a 4-3 win out of their hats.
Josh Kuzbel opened the sixth frame with a hard grounder off Oakton pitcher Matt Gregor’s leg, just the third Bulldog hit versus the Cougar right-hander. Two batters later Jake Kuzbel singled, marking the end of Gregor’s effort.
Hard-throwing sidewinder RJ Garcia came on in relief of the crafty junkballer Gregor. He promptly walked Ty Mocabee and Alex Wynn, mixing in a pair of run-scoring wild pitches. Left-handed swinging Chris Pirrello strode to the plate with two outs and two in scoring position.
Facing a two-strike count, Pirrello punched a single through the left side which brought in Mocabee standing and Wynn sliding, putting the Bulldogs up 4-3, three outs away from a miraculous win.
“Great at-bat. He fouled some pitches off,” Stone Bridge coach Sam Plank said. “He put the ball in play and it found a hole. You get kids that won’t quit, sometimes those balls go through for you.”
The Cougars (12-10)—the fourth seed from the Concorde District and winners of five of their last six—loaded the bases in the top of the seventh against Mocabee, working his second inning in relief of starter JB Bukauskus.
But Mocabee, battling a stomach ailment, bore down to strike out Mitchell Carroll, ending the threat, the game and the Bulldogs’ Houdini act.
“When you have magic like we’ve had lately, the balls fall in for you,” said Plank, the memory of his team’s five-run last-inning comeback win over Langley in the Liberty District tournament semifinals May 19 still quite fresh.
“I told them, I’m gonna die out there on the field if you guys keep doing this,” said Plank with a smile before poking at his senior pitcher. “Of course Mocabee can’t do anything easy.”
Pirrello picked up two hits and the Bulldogs’ only two RBIs. Stone Bridge managed just four hits, unable to touch Gregor’s tantalizingly slow offerings.
“We were just popping up, rolling over. The kid pitched great,” said Plank of the Oakton junior. “I told my kids this would be a tough matchup.”
Mocabee earned the mound victory, the senior’s third win in his team’s last three ball games. Bukauskus allowed three earned runs on six hits and six strikeouts over five-plus innings. Spared a tough-luck loss, the freshman will see his remarkable campaign live on.
The Bulldogs survive to face West Springfield, the second seed from the Patriot District, in the regional tourney’s second round. First pitch is set for 4 p.m. Memorial Day at James Madison High School in Vienna.
-All photos are courtesy of Steven Holland, Viva Loudoun
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