Varsity baseball begins season with upset win

McLean defeats Gonzaga in nail biting season opener


Joe Cockerham

The McLean Highlanders varsity baseball team celebrated after their win over Gonzaga, triumphing by a score of 8-7.

Following a season in which they suffered a heartbreaking loss in the regional semifinals versus the Herndon Hornets, the McLean varsity baseball squad was looking to start off hot against a notoriously difficult opponent, the Gonzaga Eagles, on March 16. The team, still led by manager John Dowling, started junior pitcher Aidan Carey in the matchup.

“I was really looking forward to our matchup,” Carey said. “It’s always a great game whenever we play [Gonzaga].”

Carey ran into a bit of trouble early, as Gonzaga left fielder and Virginia Tech commit Marcus LeClair jumped on a bad pitch and sent a towering home run onto the top of the trailer in center field, giving Gonzaga a quick 2-0 lead. The Eagles got two more baserunners on before Carey recorded an out, but he settled down and got out of the inning without any further damage.

Gonzaga started Cornell commit Ethan Van Sice at pitcher. Despite Van Sice not allowing a hit in the bottom half of the 1st inning, the Highlanders put a run on the board because of a botched pickoff attempt and great baserunning by sophomore center fielder Gabriel Pegues. The 1st inning ended 2-1, in favor of the Eagles.

Carey started off the 2nd inning by hitting a batter and allowing a single to put base runners on 1st and 3rd. LeClair came back up for the Eagles and smacked an RBI single down the 1st base line, putting the score at 3-1. Gonzaga catcher Jackson Wilburn then hit a sky-high pop-up that couldn’t be handled by the Highlanders’ infield, and another run came across for the Eagles. Carey got the last batter of the inning out, but the Highlanders were at an early deficit.

The Highlanders found some success in the bottom half of the 2nd inning, loading the bases for senior designated hitter Jakob Luu, but Luu struck out swinging on a nice pitch from Van Sice. The score stayed at 4-1 in favor of Gonzaga.

The Eagles kept rolling in the third inning, putting runners on 1st and 3rd base with two outs. However, a successful pickoff move from Carey meant that McLean escaped the inning unscathed.

After some wild pitches from Van Sice, Gonzaga decided to pull him and put in senior pitcher Jackson Baldrate. Baldrate ran into early struggles, giving up a run and putting runners on 2nd and 3rd base, as junior right fielder Yuta Shimo stepped up to the plate. Shimo hit a weak infield fly, but Gonzaga had trouble fielding the ball and the Highlanders scored both runs, evening the game at 4-4 at the end of the inning.

The Highlanders replaced Carey with sophomore pitcher Christian Dray. Dray got into a groove early, striking out two of the four batters he faced and getting out of the inning without allowing a hit. The score stood at 4-4, and after a quick scoreless inning by the Highlanders’ offense, they went into the 5th still tied.

Gonzaga’s offense, dormant for the past two innings, woke up. After a dropped pop-up and an RBI single and RBI double, the Eagles led 6-4 in the blink of an eye. Dray stayed calm, pitching well to end the top half and made sure the gap didn’t get any larger.

McLean’s offense started strong in the bottom of the 5th inning. A walk and a single suddenly led to Shimo getting another at-bat, and he delivered again, sending a triple into the right-center gap and knotting the game at 6-6. Sophomore catcher Aaron Chandler then cracked a double down the left field line, giving the ‘Ders their first lead of the night and electrifying the crowd.

Dray was still in the game for the top of the 6th inning, and on the back of a smooth play by junior shortstop Ryan Soong, gave up no runs. The Highlanders were on the brink of a victory to start the season but still needed some extra help.

It looked as though they would get that help from Pegues, as he roped a double into center field to lead off the frame. Senior second baseman Chris Morabito hit a sacrifice fly to send Pegues to third base, but he was called out on the tag, leaving McLean with empty bases and 2 outs in the inning. They didn’t find any runs, so they went into the 7th inning holding on to a tight 7-6 lead.

A new pitcher, junior Jack Nance, came into the game to replace Dray. Nance hit a batter and gave up an RBI single to Bryce Gaines, tying the game at 7-7. Nance got out of the inning without any further damage, mostly due to the help of a great outfield throw by senior Gavin Bartlett, keeping the game tied and ensuring that McLean had a great shot to win the game in the bottom half of the 7th.

Shimo found himself leading the inning off and continued his scorching hot day with another single. After a Soong flyout and Chandler groundout that advanced Shimo to 2nd base, Luu stepped up to the plate with a chance to win the game in regulation.

Luu got a middle-middle pitch and hit it into right field, and as the McLean dugout poured out to start celebrating, Shimo scored the game-winning run. The game ended 8-7, securing a major upset win for McLean to begin their season.

The Highlanders face off next on March 20th, away at Chantilly.

“This was an important win for us,” Carey said. “The boys felt hot. It was an all-around great performance.”