High school baseball teams around the area had their hands full last season against Lake Braddock, which finished the spring with 26 wins and the school’s first state championship title. In the ensuing summer months, doctors had their hands full with Lake Braddock, whose sudden onslaught of injuries grew contagious in the dugout. Torn shoulders, busted elbows, a broken leg and a damaged spinal cord rendered the Bruins a beleaguered army enduring hand-to-hand combat rather than a baseball team enjoying its time on and off the diamond.
Adding to their wounds was the departure of J.P. Anthony, a senior pitcher who transferred to rival West Springfield, the team that took down Lake Braddock in the Northern Region final last year. Anthony’s defection further hurt a pitching staff that would need to deal with the loss of Michael Church, last year’s region pitcher of the year, who is currently a freshman at James Madison University.
Yet here are the Bruins, sitting atop the Patriot District on the heels of a 10-3 record that has produced seven wins in their last eight outings. Ranked behind only Riverdale Baptist (17-1) and Madison (11-1) in the latest Washington Post All-Met poll, Lake Braddock continues to pick up steam as its players regain their health.
“It’s really been kind of a freak situation,” said head coach Jody Rutherford, who tore his achilles last September playing pickup basketball. “All I can say is that the guys have really busted their butts in the offseason doing rehab and doing all this kind of stuff to get in a situation where they’re back on the field. Some of them probably won’t be 100 percent all year long, but they’re still giving me everything they’ve got every time they take the field.”
Despite stumbling to a 6-3 loss against T.C. Williams (8-4, 5-1 Patriot) Wednesday night, Lake Braddock has outscored its seven Patriot District opponents 54-18 this season. That included a 5-2 win against South County, followed two days later by an 11-1 blowout against West Springfield in five innings.
Those two Patriot District powers are struggling one month into the season, as South County holds a 7-5 record while West Springfield has limped to a 4-7 start. Still, the two triumphs were critical for a Lake Braddock squad seeking to re-establish itself with the arrival of its district slate.
“That was two huge wins. It really got us going,” said senior infielder Alex Lewis, who racked up four hits in Monday night’s 9-3 win against Annandale. “Those guys are our rivals and they’ll play us tough all the time. So those were really good wins.”
The Bruins’ success is coming at the same rate its lineup is being replenished. Senior Thomas Rogers - a North Carolina commit who threw a four-hit shutout in last year’s state title game - underwent Tommy John surgery last August but has eased his way back onto the field this season and has made a couple of appearances on the mound. Senior catcher Garett Driscoll is back from a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, and sophomore pitcher Matt Supko has returned from a stress fracture in his back. Junior pitcher Joe Darcy is back on the mound after battling tendinitis, while Alex Lewis leads the team in hitting after recovering from a broken leg suffered last fall.
Lake Braddock will play the rest of the season without Radford recruit Mitch Spille, a senior who was recovering from Tommy John surgery when he tore the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder last year. They will also miss the services of Nick Balenger, a senior pitcher who suffered a spinal cord injury on vacation in Hawaii last summer.
“It’s kind of hard to practice with guys that have some injuries because you don’t want to overwork them to the extent that they can’t play in games,” Rutherford said. “There are a couple guys you want to take it easy on their arm, a couple guys that have banged up knees and legs here and there. So it’s been a challenge in that sense, but we’re competing when we get out on the field, and that’s all I can ask for.”
A boost has come from Balenger’s friend, Nick McIntyre, a senior pitcher who transferred from Bishop O’Connell at the end of last year, in part to rejoin forces with his old friend. McIntyre has been a bright spot on the mound so far this season, leading the Bruins from that position in several outings.
A pair of early-season losses against Chantilly and Stone Bridge came with several mistakes uncharacteristic of a championship-caliber team. The Bruins’ recent run, though, has shown Rutherford that his unit possesses the resiliency needed to go after more trophies this spring.
“What we did last year wasn’t an accident,” Rutherford said. “We’ve got guys who are competitors and are out there competing at a high level, so I’m starting to see that their expectations as a team are all on the same page as the coaches’.”
Those expectations don’t come from guys coming off injuries; they come from a team playing great baseball.
“Our goals are the same as last year. Win the state title,” Lewis said. “We’re trying to defend that this year.”