The McLean/Great Falls 14 year-old Babe Ruth team is on its way to the Southeast Regional Tournament in Palatka, Fla. this weekend after claiming its second straight Virginia state title in Winchester last week.
The joint team propelled itself to the title on the strength of its pitching and stingy defense, allowing just four runs to opponents over the duration of their five State Tournament games, all of them in the winners bracket.
McLean/Great Falls needed all of its defensive poise to squeak by a pair of tough challenges from the squad from Greater Loudon, twice besting them by a single run. In the first meeting between the two teams, which came in the Winners Bracket Final, McLean/Great Falls pitchers Joey Zarella and Eric Payne combined for the extra-inning, 1-0 shutout. With that tandem throwing goose eggs onto the score board, Abe Yi drove in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
In the State Tournament Championship game, which again pitted McLean/Great Falls against Greater Loudon, pitcher Sean Fitzgerald went all seven innings to earn the victory, 3-2. Pinch Runner Ben Johnson accounted for the winning run after he sprinted home to score on a passed ball in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Zarella was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
The victory at the state level advanced the McLean/Great Falls team to Palatka, Fla. for the Southeast Regional Tournament that begins this weekend. A victory at that level will propel them onto the Babe Ruth championships held in Wilson, North Carolina at the end of August.
In their 2006 postseason run, the team has yet to lose a game, while outscoring opponents 52-5. The team’s ERA hovers at a miniscule 0.60. Seven of the team’s hitters — Fitzgerald, Payne, Zarella, Chris Russo, Reily Beiro, Patrick Albrittain and Denis Buckley — are all batting over .300.
• The McLean/Great Falls 13-year-old Babe Ruth All-Star team similarly advanced to the State Tournament, however, that squad lost a 1-0 thriller in the losers bracket last Sunday to eventual champion Glen Allen. McLean/Great Falls had earlier defeated Glen Allen 5-2 in an opening round game.
In that contest Jake Fitzgerald (4 IP), Matt Giordano (2 IP) and Kevin Hogan (1 IP) combined to do the job on the mound, though the team trailed 2-1 in the sixth inning. However, Jay Graham came through in that inning with a pair of RBI, while James Oldenburg and Robert Hood each pushed another run across the plate to account for the final score.