Despite matching their opponent hit-for-hit, it simply came down to a lack of run production for the George Mason High School varsity baseball team, whose season ended at the hands of second-seeded Madison County in the Bull Run District semifinals, 10-4.
With an opportunity to go to the Region B tournament for the third time in four years on the line, the Mustangs poured out 12 hits against the Mountaineer pitching, equaling Madison County’s offensive output, but a lack of timely hitting ultimately doomed Mason in the early contest of the district tournament doubleheader at Strasburg High on Wednesday night.
Mason jumped out to an early lead when senior Andrew Lieber ripped an RBI single in the top of the first inning on a full count, scoring freshman Stephen Lubnow who reached on a single and advanced to second on a balk.
In the bottom of the frame, Madison responded in kind, taking advantage of control problems by Mason starter Tyler Roth. Roth, a junior, walked the first two Mountaineer batters on nine combined pitches and, after inducing a pop-out to senior Evan Tucker, yielded back-to-back doubles and a two-run blast by Kyle Louk. All told, Madison tallied five runs in the frame on just three hits, chasing Roth from the mound.
“They just had more intensity than we did that day and it showed in how well they hit the ball,” senior Mike Ward said. “We went back and forth between lazy practices and good, hard practices during the season, so I think we just came out a little slow against Madison.”
Mason coach Adam Amerine handed the ball over to Brian Lubnow, who seemed to stifle the potent Mountaineer bats for the next few innings. A two-run Shiflette double tacked on insurance for Madison, eventually adding two more in the sixth when Tucker singled, driving in his second run of the game.
“They just hit the ball,” Brian Lubnow said. “Tyler and I made good pitches, but they were pretty much the better team that day. We beat them early in the season handily, so they just had a good day I guess. They had won a bunch in a row up until that point too.”
In the top of the second, the Mustangs loaded the bases thanks to two talks and a single by freshman Max Kaplow. Reliever Dustin Kirby then struck out junior Quinn Casteel on a full count and then got Stephen Lubnow to ground into a fielder’s choice, ending the rally.
Mason tacked on two runs early in the fifth when Lieber sent a shot over the first row of trees, scoring Stephen Lubnow, who singled. However, it was too little, too late for the Mustangs, who added their fourth run in the top of the seventh when Stephen Lubnow drove in Casteel.
The Mustangs had their leadoff hitter reach base in both the third and sixth innings, but a double play ended both of those rallies. Kirby picked up the win after entering in the second inning, while Roth was tagged with the loss after lasting just one frame.
“In the second inning, after they scored those five runs, we tried to swing the bats a little bit, but couldn’t put anything on the board,” Brian Lubnow said. “We had runners on most innings but just couldn’t put any runs across.”
Lieber and Ward each had two hits in their final game for Mason, while Kaplow and Stephen Lubnow demonstrated the bright future for the Mustangs, combining for five hits and reaching base six times.
Mason closed out its season at a 12-8 clip and, despite having just two seniors on the roster, demonstrated flashes of brilliance throughout its campaign. The Mustangs opened up its season with two wins on the road at AA Dulles District opponents Broad Run and Loudoun County, and scored a pair of strong victories against cross town rivals Falls Church and J.E.B. Stuart.
Entering district play at 5-3, Mason maintained its winning record, highlighted by a 10-1 drubbing at home against Madison County on April 24. However, the squad then went on to lose three of its next six, including a home contest against Manassas Park and two road matches with eventual Region B representatives Madison and Strasburg. The Mustangs earned the right to face the Mountaineers in the district tournament Wednesday after blasting Rappahannock County, 11-0, at home on Monday night.
“I was hoping to at least make a run in the Regional tournament,” Brian Lubnow said. “Overall, though, I think we had a lot of fun. The whole group of guys, we had a lot of fun this year, but it’s too bad that we couldn’t go as far as we wanted.”
Against the Panthers, Casteel picked up the complete-game win striking out 10 batters and scattering just two hits in the effort. Mason scored three runs in the first inning and never looked back. Ward led the offensive assault with two doubles, while Casteel added three runs scored.
After the season-ending loss to Madison County, four Mustangs were named to the All-District Team, equaling the total from last year’s squad, which was ousted from the first round of the Region B Tournament. Pitcher Brian Lubnow was the lone Mason member on the First Team, also earning second-team honors at third base. Ward, a second baseman, closed out his career at Mason with All-District honors, while outfielders Kaplow and Roth joined Ward on the Second Team.
Even though Ward and Lieber, who have made up the right side of Mason’s infield for the past two seasons, will soon graduate, the Mustangs will return their entire pitching staff next year and most of their offensive leaders, leaving the squad optimistic for the future.
“A lot of the guys are coming back so it should be the game group, should be a lot of fun,” Brian Lubnow said. “Hopefully, we should be even better. Lieber and Ward played a big part in the season, but hopefully we will be able to replace them. They were both very vocal leaders, especially Lieber, who kind of got everyone up when we needed to, but we just need to have someone step up in that role next season.”
“Obviously Lieber and I wanted to go farther, but I’m not at all disappointed,” Ward added. “We had a better record than we did last year, and they have a lot of young guys returning next season, so it’ll be exciting to see how well they do.”