Vienna, Va. — The Night Owls were a team that liked to play from in front. From the first game of the season, they had a target on their backs. Their offense was loaded with guys who hit for power and for average, their pitching staff was led by a local standout, and they trailed after the fourth inning in just 4 of their 17 wins heading into the championship game.
So when designated hitter Yareb Martinez (Georgetown/John Champe) stepped into the box to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning with his team down a run, he had one thing on his mind: hunt the fastball.
In his second at-bat, with his team trailing 5-6, Martinez’s eyes lit up when he saw the 0-0 fastball hurtling towards the plate, he locked in, swung, and drove the ball out of the park to tie things up.
“In the first at-bat, he threw me nothing but fastballs, and I was a bit behind, so I knew I was gonna get a fastball,” Martinez said. “He threw it right down the middle, I liked it, I swung at it, it felt pretty pure, and I knew it was gone right off the bat.”
Two batters later, Night Owls shortstop Austin Gauthier (Hofstra/South County) blasted a shot to left to give his team the lead from which they would never look back, en route to the inaugural Northern Virginia College League tournament championship, 9-6, on August 1 in Vienna.
“No one really knew each other before the season started, but we really clicked as a team,” Martinez said. “Sal told us we were going to go pretty far, and we bought into what he was saying. Now, here we are: NVCL champions.”
After collegiate summer leagues around the country started to cancel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, local baseball leaders came together to organize the first ever NVCL, giving student-athletes from around Northern Virginia an opportunity to safely play competitive baseball in their own backyards.
“Thank you Pudge [Gjormand], Rob [Hahne], and Scott [Rowland] and everyone who helped put this league together. I didn’t think there was any chance this was going to happen. But they did a great job and stayed honest about social distancing,” Night Owls head coach Sal Colangelo said. “Winning the championship is great, but there are a lot of other things that go into summer baseball than just winning a championship: skill development, being able to compete.”
And compete they did.
In the championship game, the Sliders jumped out to an early lead as center fielder Tyler Casagrande (Arizona/Riverside) banged a home run off the scoreboard in the top of the first, driving in Ben Williamson (William & Mary/Freedom) to give his team an early lead. Later in the inning, Dominic Ragazzo (West Virginia/Salesianum (Del.)) walked to drive in teammate Tyler DeMartino (West Virginia/Whitman (Md.)) as the Sliders grabbed the early 3-0 lead.
In the bottom of the second, the Night Owls cut that lead to just one as third baseman Lucas Donlon (Virginia Tech/Georgetown Prep) and right fielder Carter Cunningham (Florida Southwestern State/Battlefield) each hit solo shots.
At the same time, Night Owls starter Randy Prosperi (William & Mary/Woodson) had settled in, retiring six straight after his shaky first inning. However, the Sliders got to him again in the fourth as a Justin Ritz (Mary Washington/Westfield) walk and sac flies by Williamson and Casagrande drove in three more runs.
The Night Owls wouldn’t go away though as first baseman Rob Weissheier (Hofstra/Kellenberg (N.Y.)) hit a two-run shot into the treetops in left field before left fielder Ethan Rothstein (James Madison/Robinson) singled in center fielder Aiden Tierney (Longwood/Colonial Forge) in the fourth.
After coming on in the fourth, Night Owls reliever Danny Checkosky (Roanoke/Robinson) worked his way into and out of a bases loaded jam in the top of the fifth, setting up Martinez for his chance to tie things up.
“You have the two best teams in the league, and they went at each other,” Colangelo said. “It was a game of inches. They had some tough luck with some line drives. But that’s baseball.”
Checkosky worked two more scoreless innings to earn the win before handing things over to Jared Dingus (Potomac State/Colgan), who escaped a bases loaded situation in the eighth before a quick ninth earned him the save and his team the first ever NVCL tournament championship.
“I’m just proud of the guys. They stayed healthy, and they got better,” Colangelo said. “This 2020 experience – not playing in the Cape, not playing in the Ripken League – but being able to say they played in the COVID era is huge.”