After five and a half innings of an emotional seesaw of a ballgame, a three-run sixth decided matters in the Loudoun County Raiders' 7-5 home victory May 24 against crosstown rival Heritage for the Conference 21-B baseball tournament championship.
The result grants the Raiders (11-11) a berth in the Region 4A West tournament, while spelling the end of the season for the Pride (8-15).
It is the first postseason tournament championship for the Raiders' baseball program, according to head coach Nick Price, since a Dulles District title in 2006.
"When I took the job here four years ago, it was to build the program back into a contender," Price said. "We were fortunate enough this year to put ourselves in a position to play for and win a championship. I credit my seniors who've put in four years here for getting the job done when we needed it."
To reach the title tilt, second-seeded County got past third-seeded Dominion 7-2, while No. 4 Heritage knocked off No. 5 Rock Ridge 1-0 before upsetting top seed Loudoun Valley 2-0.
Valley made the region tourney thanks to placing first in the conference's regular season, leaving just one other regional slot available for either the Raiders or the Pride - but not both. That made the showdown between the two oldest Leesburg rivals even more heated.
Heritage jumped out right away with a three-run opening inning on Kyle Gotimer's RBI walk and a two-run throwing error from second baseman Hunter Keim.
County responded with two of its own when Brandon Kelman socked a two-out, two-strike single, making it 3-2.
For the next four innings, neither side led the other by more than a single run as senior starting pitchers Christian McDowell of County and Brent Smith of the Pride battled on the mound. Both worked five innings and did not factor into the decision.
"My team rallied behind me," said McDowell, who surrendered just two hits but worked around seven walks in permitting one earned run. "Even though I didn't pitch the best, I was happy to be able to give my team a good performance."
Smith allowed six hits and three walks in giving up four earned runs, but used six strikeouts and a double play to avoid big innings.
"It was give and take the whole game," Smith said. "Definitely nerve-racking, with all the lead changes."
In the fourth, Keim atoned for his earlier miscue when he sizzled a two-out line drive - his third hit of the evening - over the right fielder's head for a pair of RBIs and County's first lead.
The Pride equalized with their next ups. Carsten Wahl lined a single to left, moved to third on two consecutive McDowell balks and motored home on Matt Lannes' groundout.
Heritage produced a carbon-copy in the sixth. Chris Baer looped a single - his second hit of the night - off reliever Mike Mozeko. Baer stole second - his second steal - and eventually scored on Brandon Keiper's groundout. The Pride held a 5-4 lead.
Not for long. Will Schroeder boomed a one-out double off the base of the left-field fence, starting a rally which loaded the bases. Heritage reliever Cameron Taylor walked Mozeko to tie the game, then walked Kelman to break the tie. Bubba Carmichael tapped an infield single to make it a two-run County advantage.
Schroeder moved to the mound and closed things out with a strikeout and a pair of groundouts, and the Raiders claimed their first baseball crown in a decade.
The Raiders' Price bested his brother Ryan, veteran head coach of the Pride, for the title. The coaching siblings say they talk baseball every day.
"County finished the job. They found a way," praised Ryan about Nick's team. "We had a lot of chances tonight, had a lot of guys on base. Just couldn't figure out ways to find the outfield and get those guys in."
Loudoun County 7, Heritage 5
RBI: LC 7 (Kelman 3, Keim 2, Carmichael 1, Mozeko 1); H 3 (Gotimer 1, Keiper 1, Lannes 1)