Leesburg, Va. — The Riverside High School baseball team knows how to win. Specifically, they know how to win close games. The Rams are, now, winners of ten in a row after defeating the Dominion Titans, 2-1, in a Dulles District semifinal on May 20.
The game turned on a failed sacrifice fly of all things, one that went horribly wrong for one team and perfectly for another.
With runners on second and third, Dominion junior Shane Reilly stepped in against Riverside junior pitcher Jared Smith. On the very first pitch, Reilly belted a sinking line drive to junior right fielder Ty Reichard, who hesitated before racing in to make the catch while falling down.
“I saw the ball coming to me and I said ‘oh shoot, I need to hustle’ because it was a low, hard-hit line drive,” Reichard said. “As soon as I made the play, I got up and thought the guy would be running home.”
As he got up, he took a look at the runner on third, Dominion sophomore Declan McCann, expecting him to already be halfway home to score on a game-tying sacrifice fly. McCann, however, was still standing on third and the two stared at each other, frozen in the moment. Time itself seemed to stand still, everyone on the field in the stands waiting in bated breath to see what would happen next.
McCann broke for home, sprinting as Reichard threw the ball home. His throw was immaculate, hitting senior catcher John Heltebran right in the chest, who then promptly tagged McCann out to end the inning.
“I hesitated for a second because I didn’t see him, but then I saw [the runner]go and thought ‘I need to make a perfect throw here,’” Reichard said. “I threw it right on the money and got the kid out.”
The Riverside players and fans jumped up and down in pure ecstasy, after a play that quite literally saved the game.
“Reichard just made a great throw. Chest high and a bullet. Can’t make a better throw,” Riverside head coach Sam Plank said. “To win games like this you need big time plays. That throw definitely sealed the game for us.”
The game itself was a low-scoring affair due to the stellar performance of both starting pitchers: Riverside senior Gunner Canary and Dominion senior Dylan Weber. Canary exited after scattering five hits and three walks over five innings of work, allowing just one run.
“Gunner didn’t have his best stuff tonight, but he battled, he was tough,” Plank said. “He’s first team all-district for a reason.”
After their starter came out of the game, the Rams bullpen was pristine, not allowing a single baserunner across two innings of work. After Smith’s inning of work with the failed sacrifice fly, sophomore Wyatt Shenkman came in and closed out the Titans in quick fashion, striking out two batters and inducing a weak ground out from another to end the game.
For the Titans, Weber labored through six innings in his last appearance in a Dominion uniform. The CNU-commit struck out seven but gave up seven hits and two runs in a 110-pitch effort.
“It took us a while to get the bats going. We just needed to take advantage of base runners and bring them in,” Weber said near a somber Dominion dugout. “It was definitely a tough loss. I don’t regret anything. Only thing I’m definitely going to miss is the guys. It was just so much fun every day being with them. I’m definitely going to miss them.”
Dominion struck first off Canary in the third, but it was Riverside that was able to prosper in the fourth and fifth innings. Riverside senior shortstop Carson Swank drove in Reichard to tie the game up in the fourth, and an inning later, sophomore left fielder Michael Walsh drove in another run with an RBI single, a run that would turn out to be the game winner.
With the win, Riverside (10-2, 13-7) will host Loudoun County (3-9, 8-12) on May 22 in the Dulles District championship game. Both the Rams and Raiders have already secured berths to the VHSL Region 4C tournament.
“We just got to keep playing like we’re playing,” Swank said. “Any pitcher is going to give us a hard time, so we got to keep doing what we’re doing, swinging on fastballs, waiting on curve balls and we should get the job done.”