Facing a foe it hadn't vanquished in more than a year, Lake Braddock came out swinging Tuesday night, and never trailed during a 9-4 Patriot District victory against visiting South County.
With the win, the Bruins (12-1, 7-0) remained alone atop the district standings, while pushing the Stallions (9-3, 4-3), the league's defending champion, to fourth.
Bruins’ starter Michael Church worked five innings to earn victory, emerging from multiple early jams before settling down. The senior benefited from a four-run first inning and three-run fourth.
"I think it being South County, he was a little amped up," said Lake Braddock coach Jody Rutherford, noting Church hadn't pitched in a game in the past two weeks. "He struggled with command early, which is not an issue he normally has, but he pitched out of some big jams."
After enduring defeat four times versus the Stallions in 2011, the last one being for the Northern Region championship, the Bruins sought a measure of revenge in this season’s first matchup.
Church, a right-hander who is bound for James Madison University next spring, set the tone early. He escaped unscathed from a two-on, no-out situation in the first on the strength of a pick-off and a called strikeout of Stallion clean-up hitter Kyle Fairbanks.
After that the Bruins offense went to work. Stallions’ pitcher Patrick Campo gave up a single to Jack Owens and a double to Garrett Driscoll on the next pitch.
Four batters later, Matt Spruill’s double cleared the bases, giving Lake Braddock a 4-0 lead.
South County halved that lead with a two-run third inning after hits from Danny Gordon and Michael Smith.
"Last year, we were a power-oriented team. This year we're more speed-oriented," said South County coach Mark Luther, whose team competed without usual starters Andrew Rector and Jake Josephs. "But we need to get those speed guys on base."
The Bruins answered right away. They scored one run in the third and added three more in the fourth; Spruill, Mitch Spille and Alex Gransback collected RBI singles.
"They just keep coming at you and coming at you," Luther said of the Bruins' bats. "If you keep them to one or two, you can stay with them but you can't give up fours and threes."
Lake Braddock's Nathan Parker, in as a courtesy runner for catcher Driscoll, excited the home fans with his base-running display in the fourth. He stole second off Campo's high leg-kick delivery, then nabbed third as Campo whirled to pick him off second.
Taking liberties on the bases was a theme of the Bruins' offensive success on the night.
"We have some pretty good baserunners up and down our lineup," Rutherford said. "But it's a lot easier to run when you're in the lead."
The Stallions had not surrendered more than five runs in any game before Tuesday, while the Bruins nearly hit the 10-run plateau for the sixth time this season.
Church struck out four and allowed four hits before giving way to JP Anthony in the sixth. The Stallions scored two off of Anthony before Nick Balenger came in and pitcher a perfect seventh.
Every starting Bruin had at least one hit (the team had 12), while the Stallions hit safely six times.
"I'm satisfied with the way we're playing right now," Rutherford said. "I just want to continue to play good ball and get better."