Oakton’s Concorde District title didn’t come easy last year. With two outs gone in the bottom of the seventh, the Cougars needed a heroic line drive to send two runners home for a come-from-behind walk-off victory on Chantilly’s home field.
Facing Chantilly once again in Monday’s Conference 5 championship, Oakton didn’t produce any final-inning drama at the plate. But who needs that sort of drama when you’ve got the conference’s best player on the mound?
“I kind of felt like I had to put the team on my back a little bit and go out there and win this game,” said senior pitcher Tommy Lopez, who was honored as the Conference 5 Player of the Year before Monday’s game. “A bunch of people contributed, so it was a great team effort.”
Oakton’s left-handed ace gave up just three hits on his way to a complete game Monday, retiring the Chargers in order at the top of the seventh to close out a 5-1 victory. The win secured back-to-back titles for the Cougars, winners of three of the last four conference championships.
Lopez wasn’t overpowering Chantilly batters with head-spinning lasers, but his two-seam fastball allowed him to get ahead in the count against almost every guy he faced Monday. He surrendered just one infield single through the first five innings and ended the day with five strikeouts and no walks.
The evening wasn’t a total breeze for him, though. Chantilly center fielder Mike Sciorra belted a two-out double in the sixth to tie the score at 1-1. Lopez got out of the inning with a fly ball on the next at-bat, then led off with a single in the bottom of the frame.
That hit chased Chantilly right-hander Austin Margarida, but reliever Matt Hogle couldn’t slow the Cougars’ momentum. Dale Good followed Lopez with a single to center, followed by base hits from Kyle Christy and Ryan Davis to put Oakton ahead 3-1. Two more runners scampered home after the Chargers botched a routine groundball to first.
“It shows [Lopez’s] tremendous character to be able to keep his composure out there,” Oakton skipper Justin Janis said. “Even when they scored, it would have been easy to kind of let down a little bit when they tied the game up in the sixth inning. But he buckled down when he needed to.”
Lopez’s triumph was the culmination of a breakout season that has seen him transition seamlessly from reliever to starter.
“This year he’s just kind of taken the next step,” Janis said. “He’s a kid who every time you give him a challenge, he just steps up to it. He doesn’t complain about it or think we’re picking on him. He just steps up like a man and answers the bell.”
Following last year’s run to the Northern Region final and state semifinals, Oakton coaches were unsure whether they had the tools to go deep again this spring. Second baseman Joey Bartosic (George Washington), shortstop Mitchell Carroll (UMBC), catcher Kyle Burger (Lincoln Memorial) and outfielder Brian Burns (Mary Washington) all moved on to play college ball last year, leaving question marks all over the field.
“Losing some of those guys was huge, but we knew we could step up and we knew how good we are, even if no one else did,” Lopez said. “We just believed in ourselves the whole time.”
Second-seeded Chantilly will host No. 3 seed Washington-Lee in Friday’s first round of regional play, while top-seeded Oakton will face No. 4 seed McLean.
“Hopefully we just do what we’ve been doing in terms of getting good starting pitching, good defense and putting together some quality situational at-bats,” Janis said.