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When it comes to baseball in the 6A North Region, nobody wants to mess with the Concorde District. Now dubbed Conference 5 in the aftermath of VHSL reclassification, the area’s smallest grouping of schools once again boasts one of the biggest collections of talent this spring.

Oakton, the defending district champion and regional finalist, returns a formidable pitching staff that could lead the Cougars back to glory this year. Centreville, which dropped just one district contest during the regular season last year, appears poised to redeem its postseason shortcomings with 13 seniors on its roster. And Westfield, Robinson and Herndon are always capable of beating anyone they face.

But the dark horse in the Concorde this year looks like Chantilly, an experienced outfit poised to break free from the relative mediocrity that has hung over the program during the last four years. The Chargers don’t boast a transcendent talent rising to the fore this season, but they return enough veterans to make district supremacy a realistic ambition.

Chantilly’s renewed depth this year shined in Monday’s season opener, which saw them coast to an 8-0 win over Stonewall Jackson. The Chargers managed only four hits in near-freezing temperatures, but five solid innings from Eason Recto and help from Jared DiCesare and Jaime Gomez got the job done on the mound.

“I like that we have some different parts that we can put in,” said Chantilly coach Kevin Ford, now in his ninth year at the helm. “We’ve really got some options of guys that can sub in or that can play different positions. It kind of leaves me with some juggling to do. We juggled a lot of people [Monday], and I think that’s kind of the way it’s going to be as the season goes on. I think we have a little bit more depth than we’ve had in awhile on the mound, in the field and at the plate.”

Rejoining Recto on the mound this year is Matt Hogle, a junior who posted a 2.41 earned-run average in 63.2 innings pitched last year. Hogle was instrumental in Chantilly’s improbable run to the district championship game last year, having pitched a shutout that knocked top-seeded Centreville out of the district semifinals. Senior hurler Austin Margarida, who compiled a 1.60 ERA in 30.2 innings last year, is also back, though he’s had to deal with rehab on his elbow in recent weeks.

Senior center fielder Mike Sciorra, a James Madison University commit, returns as the Chargers’ go-to guy at the plate, having led the team with a .321 batting average in 84 plate appearances last year. Sciorra joins Recto — who will play at Cornell next year — and senior shortstop Tommy Vance as the team’s only three-year starters, providing a level of experience and stability that should serve the Chargers well in the pressure-packed weeks of May.

Adding punch to the squad’s rotation this spring is DiCesare, a sophomore infielder who has impressed coaches in the offseason with improved prowess in the batter’s box.

“He’s just shown that he’s ready to go at the plate,” Ford said. “Even against some of the better pitching that we’ve seen, he’s just had really good swings and really good approaches. We’re excited about him in the middle of our lineup.”

The Chargers are hoping to parlay last year’s postseason momentum wave into a strong start this year, assuming they ever get back on the field. Mother Nature let Chantilly have just one full practice on its home field prior to Monday’s opener, forcing them to grow intimately familiar with the wrestling and film rooms in recent weeks.

“It’s terrible. We all hate it,” said Sciorra, reflecting the sentiments of so many area baseball players this winter. “We want to be out here getting our feet dirty. Hitting in the wrestling room or in the gym is nothing like being out on the field, but we’re adjusting.”

Riding a 2-7 district mark and five consecutive defeats, the Chargers somehow managed to snap Centreville’s 11-game winning streak with a 5-1 triumph to close last year’s regular season, then beat the Wildcats 5-0 to reach the district final a week later. Playing on its home turf, Chantilly led Oakton 4-3 with two outs gone in the bottom of the seventh, but Kyle Burger’s two-RBI double propelled the Cougars to a dramatic 5-4 victory. That set up a daunting regional tournament contest against defending state champion Lake Braddock, which the Bruins won 8-2.

“Hopefully the guys who were on that team learned that it just takes a little momentum to really get yourselves going and play with some confidence,” Ford said. “Our district’s always tough. It doesn’t matter who’s good or who’s got guys coming back. Everybody’s well coached, and it’s a dog fight every night.”

Sciorra, who won the 6A state golf individual title last fall, hopes his team gets another shot at Oakton down the stretch.

“It’s in the back of our minds,” Sciorra said. “We don’t talk about it much, but we want it back with Oakton. I guess you could say that motivates us a little bit.”

If they do meet the Cougars in the playoffs again, Chantilly will be aiming for the same result that emerged in 2008, when they beat Oakton for their most recent district title before advancing to the regional championship.

“I think we’ve got plenty of talent to do it this year, and maybe the regional tournament and compete for the state tournament as well,” Sciorra said. “I think we’re deep and competitive, and I think we’ll go a long way.”

neilerson@fairfaxtimes.com