At the beginning of the baseball season, Madison was pegged as one of the best teams in the Northern Region.
Armed with a deep, talented roster, which included the multi-talented Andy McGuire, one might have assumed the Warhawks would cruise through their schedule and secure a top seed in the Northern Region tournament.
With just two games left, coach Mark Gjormand never bought into the hype.
It wasn’t because his team wasn’t talented enough to live up to expectations, but because the Liberty is one the most competitive baseball districts.
“I know that this season we had a pretty good team,” he said. “But I also knew that it would be the hardest year to try and win the district.”
The team’s 13-5 record suggests its right where it should be, but a look at the district record confirms Gjormand’s worries. Madison is 7-5 in conference play.
Losses tend to come in small bunches — back-to-back games in a row followed by wins. When Madison comes to play, teams tend to throw everything they have at them.
“You would look at our record and think that [we’ve slumped], but the pitchers we’ve faced have been great,” Gjormand said. “In those games, we saw their top pitchers every time.”
Madison’s losses have come at the hands of McLean’s Josh Sborz, Stone Bridge freshman J.B. Bukauskas, Langley’s Michael Byrne and Matt Moser and Marshall’s Mitch Mackeith.
Gjormand considers all of those pitchers as elite, and many are committed to play baseball at the collegiate level next season.
“You have to tip your hat to the other guys sometimes,” he said. “I don’t think it’s what we wanted to happen, but it’s the situation we’ve put ourselves into. We don’t know what our seed will be and if we’ll see them again.”
Instead of cruising through the Liberty, Madison is winning the hard way. Against Langley the Warhawks forced extra innings, and four of the team’s five losses have been by one run; the other was a 9-6 loss to Marshall.
Since the team’s 3-2 loss to Stone Bridge on April 27, Gjormand noticed his players have adapted to the challenge.
He said that after winning its spring break tournament — one of the team’s goals — he thought the team might have been surprised to see the district throw their best players at them every night.
Now that its been through the district once, and are positioning themselves for a top seed, the team is stepping up.
Madison responded to the Stone Bridge loss with a 10-5 victory against Oakton, and then routed South Lakes, 13-0. This past Friday, the Warhawks avenged their loss to Langley, 8-2.
“We’re starting to play our best baseball right now, even better than when we played at spring break,” he said. “Those losses made us better because we had to overcome adversity. We’ve come back after tough losses to earn wins.”
Gjormand said players also are stepping up to the challenge their district presents individually, such as catcher Jack Anzilotti, who is building upon a strong season behind the plate.
“He’s thrown out about 80 percent of people who try to run on him,” Gjormand said. “That’s pretty good considering most only get about 60 percent out if they’re good.”
The pitching staff of Daniel Bayer, Henry Brandmark, Tim Davis, Nate Favero, Justin Padgett, Dan Powers and McGuire have given the Warhawks depth that could be crucial in the postseason.
“We’ve got pitching depth and it wouldn’t bother me if we had to play a few games in a row because of rain,” Gjormand said. “The team is really coming together right now.”