The No. 2 seed in the Conference 6 baseball tournament normally isn’t a perennial afterthought. Nor is it normally a team that starts the season with seven losses in its first eight games. And it’s normally not a team that went 3-16 the previous season.
The No. 2 seed in the Conference 6 tournament normally isn’t the South Lakes Seahawks, but then again, this year’s group isn’t your normal flock of Seahawks.
“In the past we’ve always been, ‘Oh, we’re playing South Lakes? Mark it as a W,’” said Matt Wojciechowski, the team’s junior ace. “Now teams come into our house with that mentality, and we’re like, ‘Yeah, come in with that mentality and see what happens.’”
That kind of bravado hasn’t always circulated the dugout at South Lakes, where losses have become as customary as pre-game renditions of the national anthem in recent years. The Seahawks failed to beat a single local team outside of Thomas Jefferson last year, a rut that continued until they beat Washington-Lee late last month.
But rather than resign themselves to yet another forgettable season, the boys in green and blue decided to make a change. It happened during spring break, just prior to the team’s trip down to South Carolina for the Mingo Bay Classic. Players held a meeting with coaches to get to the bottom of their problems and seek ways to turn the ship around.
In addition to rekindling their focus, the meeting spurred a tactical change that would alter the complexion of their entire season. They decided to move senior JoJo Lear, the team’s lead-off hitter, from shortstop to left field; sophomore Marty Gryski would move from third base to fill in at shortstop.
Since that change was made, errors have gone down as wins have piled up. The Seahawks have won eight of their last 11 games and will face the winner of the play-in game between No. 7 seed McLean and No. 8 seed Yorktown. Not bad for a club that was brushed aside 4-1 in last year’s play-in game.
The team’s newfound hot streak — one that was somewhat dampened by Tuesday’s 4-3 loss at Hayfield in the regular season finale — began in Myrtle Beach, where they went 2-1 to reach the semifinals of a difficult tournament that also included West Springfield, South County and Battlefield.
“That’s where we got better,” South Lakes coach Galvin Morris said. “Losing in the semifinals 4-1 to a team that they say is the fourth best in the state, and we had our chances against them. We just took that momentum that we had down there and brought it back.”
South Lakes came home and beat Washington-Lee, Herndon and Fairfax, then put up an admirable fight against top-seeded Madison before losing 4-2. The Seahawks beat McLean four days later, a team that outscored them 25-1 in their two meetings last season. Then they blew out Langley 13-2 in six innings, avenging the 1-0 defeat that preceded the meeting one month earlier.
After giving up runs in bunches earlier this season, South Lakes has tightened up its defense, its four runs surrendered to Madison being the most it’s ceded since spring break. The Seahawks have counted on brave outings from Wojciechowski, Ben Darby, Zack McIntyre and Terry Petersen, and they’ve even received a big lift on the mound from freshman Noah Luckenbaugh.
“Pitching was a question mark coming into the season, but our pitchers have done a great job throughout the year,” Morris said. “We have guys stepping up in big games. We’re confident that whoever we put on the mound, we’re going to win.”
South Lakes knows it doesn’t have the horses to compete with Madison day-in, day-out, but players are confident they’re good enough to at least steal a game from them when it might matter most.
“We all believe we can win the district title,” Wojciechowski said. “We’ve played Madison twice, and last time we played them really well. We faced their ace, and he’s a good pitcher, but we think we can hit him. We think we can hit anybody right now.”