Leesburg, Va. — When you throw strikes, play solid defense, and execute the small details on offense, you’re priming yourself to have success. That’s just what the Heritage High School baseball team did when they issued just two free 90s, played clean defense, and got some clutch at-bats in the third and sixth innings in their 6-3 win over rival Loudoun County High School on May 17 in Leesburg. The win capped off a 12-2 Dulles District schedule for Heritage, earning the Pride their first regular season title in program history.
“I can’t really put it into words, I’m just so proud of this entire team,” first-year Heritage head coach Nolan Potts said. “The guys have played consistent baseball and have found a way to win a lot of close games all season long. I don’t think a lot of them realized that this had never been done in the history of the baseball program heading into the season. To be able to celebrate with them tonight and get that cooler dumped on my head is something I’ll cherish forever.”
The top of the first did not go according to plan for the Pride who saw a leadoff single erased in the following at-bat when a bunt back to the junior starter Jack Beard resulted in a fielder’s choice. Beard then picked off the runner at first for the second out before a ground out two batters later thwarted Heritage’s first chance.
The Captains took full advantage of the early Heritage miscues with back-to-back singles to start the bottom half of the first before senior catcher Matt Starchville barrelled a ball into the right center gap to put Loudoun County up 2-0.
Then, Heritage senior starter Dylan Smith struck out the lead off batter of the second before inducing an inning-ending double play.
The Pride drew back-to-back walks to start the third before sophomore right fielder Aaron Van Tuyle drove a hard ground ball up the middle to plate senior second baseman Luke Howard and junior third baseman Alec Jones and tie the game up at 2-2. Van Tuyle later scored on an RBI single by sophomore shortstop Owen Brundage as the Pride took their first lead of the game.
Loudoun County sophomore center fielder Brady Shaw doubled to lead off the bottom of the third for the Captains, before sophomore right fielder Jacob Martin drove him in on a single to left to tie the game up. But like he had the previous inning, Smith found a way to induce an inning-ending double play to keep the Pride and Captains knotted up at 3-3.
“Dylan might be the biggest surprise of the season for us with what he’s done as a pitcher,” Potts said. “He’s a guy who said at tryouts that he wanted to try to pitch, and every time he’s gone out there he’s given us quality innings. He’s a senior who literally didn’t pitch at all last year, and he’s been able to go out and give us those innings and keep us in games.”
A quiet fourth and fifth inning for both teams got louder in the top of the sixth when Heritage senior left fielder Landon Taylor led off the inning with a bunt single. After a ground out, senior first baseman Jack Tyree moved Taylor to third with a single to right.
“Small ball and good baserunning can make a world of difference in close games,” Potts said. “So we’ve got to be able to execute in both of those areas if we want to be successful in the postseason.”
With one out and runners on the corners, Heritage junior centerfielder Justin Goulet dropped a beautiful bunt single down the third baseline to load up the bases.
“Landon’s bunt to start that inning was a rally starter for us, and for Justin Goulet to get a bunt down late in a tied ball game and get on allowed that inning to continue and eventually have us scratch a couple runs across,” Potts said. “It was supposed to be a safety squeeze, but Justin put that ball right on the third base line, so Landon couldn’t go, but it was just an absolutely perfect bunt.”
Taylor eventually scored on a wild pitch to give the Pride the lead before Howard drew his second walk of the game to re-load the bases. Jones then drew his second walk of the game to extend the Heritage lead to 5-3.
With one out and the bases loaded, Beard induced an infield fly on the line behind first base, which was subsequently dropped, allowing the speedy Goulet to score from third.
With a 6-3 lead, Heritage freshman reliever Mark Van Tuyle got back to work, having replaced Smith to start the bottom of the fourth. Van Tuyle—who scattered four hits over his four scoreless innings of relief—worked his way out of a two-out jam in the sixth before closing the door in the seventh to earn the win.
“Mark is 14 and doesn’t turn 15 until July, but if you watch him go about his business and how he prepares at practice and before games, he acts like he’s much older,” Potts said. “He’s so mature for being just a freshman, and you can never tell if he’s having a great game or a bad game. He’s got the same demeanor all the time on the field and it suits him well. If he was nervous out there tonight, none of us knew it. He just did a phenomenal job for us tonight.”
With the win, Heritage earns the No. 1 seed in the Dulles District and an automatic top seed in the VHSL Region 4C tournament. The Pride will host No. 8 Rock Ridge in a Dulles District quarterfinal on May 22 with a chance to play in the district semifinal on the line.
“We’re one win away from the state tournament now, and we’ve put ourselves in a position where we don’t have to win the district tournament next week in order to keep playing,” Potts said. “Winning the district tournament is one of the goals that the players set at the beginning of the season, and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got to accomplish that goal but knowing that we get to host a region playoff game because of all the hard work they did during the regular season is definitely a great feeling.”
Regardless of the outcome, Heritage will also host a VHSL Region 4C semifinal on May 30 in Leesburg.
“Our baseball program has never been to the state tournament, so the goal is definitely to win that first region game,” Potts said. “We just want to continue to play solid baseball and focus on one game at a time, starting on Monday in the district tournament. If we do that, I think we’ll be happy with the results and end up where we want to be.”