John Thomas might have been dismayed by the result of the Liberty District tournament final — and the officiating — but the McLean coach did want to make one thing clear.
"There were a lot of calls I disagreed with, but we had our chances and I don't want to take anything from Stone Bridge; they were extremely tough," Thomas said. "Whatever happens in a baseball game, we pride ourselves in overcoming it but we couldn't overcome it this time."
In a game marked by disputed calls, second-seeded McLean lost, 3-1, to No. 1 Stone Bridge on Tuesday.
The game, it seemed, had a little bit of everything.
First, McLean's Josh Sborz was robbed of a home run when left fielder Marcus Schreiber rose up over the nine-foot fence to haul it back. keeping the contest scoreless in the second inning.
The second-inning play, which maintained a scoreless tie, initially was ruled invalid because an overhanging tree branches might have affected the ball's flight. The hit was ruled a double, then was overturned after the umpiring crew conferred. The catch stood.
It was the first of several times McLean’s fans would be dismayed.
Twice, the Highlanders (14-8) were penalized by double-plays from interference calls. When Sborz struck out in the fifth, his momentum carried him into Stone Bridge catcher Cam Bowen, affecting Bowen's throw to second base. The baserunner, who was attempting to steal, called ruled out on batter interference.
An inning later, with the bases loaded and one out, Donnie Eckrod rolled a slow grounder to second. Stone Bridge's hurried try to turn two was unsuccessful, with Eckrod beating the relay as the tying run came home. That was until interference was called at second base, ending the inning and nullifying the run. The score stayed at 2-1 in favor of the Bulldogs (16-6).
Thomas rushed out to argue — adamantly — to no avail.
"To have the tying run taken off the board for interference when they had no chance to roll it up, it's disappointing, but it is what it is," Thomas said.
Finally, a controversial sixth-inning balk against McLean starter Brock Hunter — in which the left-hander stepped off the rubber, faked to first and whirled toward third — brought in a huge run for Stone Bridge. It also brought Thomas out for yet another dispute.
For good measure, the Bulldogs were called for interference in the sixth when batter Scott Doescher got in the way of McLean catcher Hardy Cox's pick-off throw to first — although that too required a prolonged umpire conference.
The Highlanders threatened against Stone Bridge right-hander Tyler Mocabee, a senior who has signed with George Mason University. Twice McLean had the bases loaded with no outs; they away with one run.
The final inning had an anticlimatic feel as the Highlanders went quietly with three straight strikeouts. McLean's sole run was produced in the fourth on Eckrod's run-scoring double-play.
Hunter, a senior bound for Coastal Carolina University, went the distance in the loss.
"Brock did what he had to do to win," Thomas said. "He was really good tonight."
Both teams move into the Northern Region tournament to face competition from the Concorde District.
The Highlanders will be matched up at home against Centreville on Friday.