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Briar Woods outlasts Halifax in 14 innings to claim first state crown

Briar Woods players and coaches are fired up after the Falcons took an early lead versus Halifax. Briar Woods eventually won the game 5-4 in 14 innings.—Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser
If you're going to make it all the way to the state championship game, you might as well win it.

And if that title tilt is going to go for 14 innings and nearly four hours under the blazing sun, you better win it.

The Briar Woods Falcons won their first-ever Group 5A state baseball championship June 10, outlasting Halifax 5-4 in a 14-inning midday marathon at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax.

"You could see it in everybody's eyes. They didn't want to lose this baseball game," Briar Woods head coach Jason Miller said.

Sean Clark struck the decisive blow, singling up the middle to score pinch-runner Jake Rayfield from second with the championship-winning run.

A bevy of Briar Woods students and supporters raced to join the Falcon players, already piling up happily on the infield.

It was an accomplishment just for the Falcons (20-7) to extend the game to extras. Faced with a two-run deficit entering the final regulation inning, Briar Woods filled the bases for senior Jake Kleifges. He smacked the first pitch he saw past the Halifax second baseman and into right field, bringing Brandon Hamm and Jack Jaekle home to tie.

The large assemblage of Briar Woods partisans erupted into ecstatic cheers.

"This team fights. This team really fights," Clark said. "There's nothing this team can't do."

The Falcons had taken an early 2-0 lead with a three-hit first inning, aided by a Halifax error.

Clark got the start and delivered three hitless frames before allowing two hits and a walk in the fourth. Hard-throwing left-hander Michael Ludowig came on in relief, surrendering a pair of hits and seeing an outfield fly ball dropped.

The Comets tallied four runs to take a 4-2 lead.

Ludowig bulldogged through seven innings with three hits and nine strikeouts. As cramping in his upper left leg flared up noticeably, Ludowig was relieved after walking the first batter of the 11th.

Miller sent a hobbling Ludowig back to centerfield and installed Jaekle in the pitcher's spot. The senior righty held Halifax down for three innings, winding up with the mound win.

Despite his debilitating cramp, Ludowig coaxed a walk to lead off the 14th. After struggling to reach second base on a fielder's choice, Ludowig had to leave the ballgame permanently.

"It was our stud in Ludowig who had to be carried off the baseball field. That's huge," Miller said. "He didn't want to let his brothers down and gave it every single thing he had."

Reserve pitcher Rayfield pinch-ran for Ludowig. Moments later, when Clark banged a fastball into centerfield, Rayfield's fresh legs rounded third and churned for home, stamping on the plate before the catcher's swipe tag.

It was pandemonium for the Falcon faithful.

Clark struck out three in his three innings, giving up two hits. Ludowig whiffed nine in seven innings, allowing three to hit safely. Jaeckle had three strikeouts in four hitless frames.

"That's a group of kids that's really special to me," said Miller, who coached those three in middle school ball. "Those guys have always been competitors."

Clark and Ludowig each knocked three hits. Kleifges had a pair of hits to go with two RBIs. Senior second baseman Alex Bjornsen starred on defense, twice knocking down grounders to prevent Halifax runs.

-Photos by Chuck Moore and Rick Wasser


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