Leesburg, Va. — Issuing back-to-back walks to start the state championship game probably would’ve had most pitchers in panic mode. But Connor Hale was in complete control.
Giving up a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth in the state championship game probably would’ve had most pitchers stressed out. But Connor Hale was in complete control.
Allowing a baserunner to reach on an error on your 110th pitch with two outs in the top of the seventh in the state championship game probably would’ve had most pitchers in a sweat. But as he jogged out to right field, where he’d have to watch the final out take place, Connor Hale was in complete control.
For four years, the Broad Run High School lefty has been in big moments, and for four years, he’s delivered.
“He’s played in big games in front of big crowds, and he just knows how to fight through it,” Broad Run head coach Tommy Meier said. “That’s the advantage a senior has in a situation like this; they don’t dwell on the negative, they just go after the next batter. I wasn’t surprised one bit every time Connor was able to fight through it.”
With two outs and a runner on first in a 3-2 game in the top of the seventh inning of the state championship game, Hale reached his pitch limit and had to turn the ball over to junior teammate Ethan Walker, who was tasked with getting the final out.
On a 3-2 pitch with two outs, Walker raised his knee, the Hanover pinch runner started his secondary, and the lefty reliever planted his foot well short of the 45° allowed, catching the runner leaning, picking off the final out of the VHSL 4A State championship game as the Spartans held off the visiting Hanover Hawks, 3-2, on June 26 in Ashburn.
“State championship environment is a lot different than any of the other environments I’ve pitched in,” Hale said. “To be able to pull it off is an awesome feeling.”
While the Spartans celebrated in the end, it didn’t look very good from the start. Hale—who threw four innings of relief in the Spartans’ 11-inning state semifinal just three days before—walked the first two batters he faced. Wanting to settle his senior southpaw down, Broad Run pitching coach Pat Cassidy made a visit to the mound.
Cassidy had been here before. Thirty years ago, in 1991, Cassidy was donning the maroon and gold during his senior year, leading Broad Run to its first state title in program history. So he understood the moment and just told Hale to take a deep breath, settle in, and let the defense back him up.
After his visit with Cassidy, Hale induced a 4-6-3 double play on the very next batter as the Spartans were back in business. As cool as he’s been over his high school career, Hale then struck out the Hanover clean up hitter to escape his first inning jam unscathed.
“He’s been a competitor for four years, so this was nothing new,” Cassidy said. “We were lucky with how our playoff rotation worked that Connor Hale was getting the ball in our biggest game. He was the center of the storybook ending.”
After his two walks to start the game, Hale would face the minimum over the next 5.2 innings—picking off a runner in the third and rolling another double play ball in the fifth—putting his team in the driver’s seat in the biggest moment of their careers.
While Hale took a no hitter into the sixth, he also got the run support he needed in the second and fifth innings.
Broad Run senior second baseman Tyler Morley led off the second inning with a double down the left field line. Then senior left fielder Joe Ferguson attempted to move Morley over with a sacrifice bunt, and he was more than successful as the Hanover pitcher fielded the bunt and proceeded to throw it down the left field line, allowing Morley to score and Ferguson to advance to second.
Broad Run senior catcher Matthew Mizelle moved Ferguson over on a ground out to second, before the Hanover catcher tried to back pick Ferguson, throwing another ball down the left field line, plating Ferguson as the Spartans took a 2-0 lead.
Still holding onto that 2-0 lead, Broad Run senior first baseman Jacob Flicker led off the fifth with a walk then quickly advanced to second on a passed ball. With one out and a runner on second, Broad Run senior center fielder Adam Chow hit what looked to be a routine ground ball to the shortstop, however, the Hawks’ defense again let them down as he spiked the throw, allowing Flicker to come around and score.
“We were trying anything and everything to get runners on base,” Meier said. “When you face a competitive arm like that, you’ve got to respect it.”
All season long, the Spartans have had the mentality to get on base, put the ball in play, and force the issue, and when Hanover junior lefty Levi Huesman took the bump in the state championship, they knew that would be easier said than done.
Huesman struck out the side in the first before allowing the two runs in the second—just one earned—matching Hale nearly pitch for pitch down the stretch, allowing just one hit over his six innings of work.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to Levi Huesman; the kid’s an unbelievable pitcher,” Meier said. “Good luck to anybody who has to face him next year.”
Fortunately for the Spartans, they were able to put the ball in play and force the issue with the Hanover defense, giving Hale the run support he needed.
Hale’s no hitter did come to an end with two outs in the sixth inning as Hanover junior second baseman Seth Keller hit a two-run home run to straightaway center.
But as he had done throughout the afternoon, Hale buckled down and struck out the final batter of the sixth to give his team a lead heading into the seventh inning, where Walker was able to get the final out, earning the Spartans their first baseball state title since 1991.
“It’s great for the school, it’s great for the community, and it’s great for the team,” Hale said. “We’ve wanted this for so long.”
Broad Run Batting
Broad Run Pitching
|Connor Hale (W)||6.2||1||2||2||5||5|
|Ethan Walker (S)||0.1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Levi Huesman (L)||6||1||3||1||3||6|