Todd Varesco muttered words of frustration as he paced around the third-base coaching area. Down by two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning against Gaithersburg, the Northwest head coach vented after the Jaguars’ leadoff batter drew a walk but was picked off first base shortly after.
The following Northwest batter also drew a walk. But once again, Gaithersburg pitcher Billy Cullen squashed a potential rally by picking off the Jaguar at first base.
With the Trojans one out from victory, Gaithersburg head coach Jeff Rabberman stood in the first-base dugout and had some fun with Cullen, who managed to turn two walks into two outs.
“Hey, Billy!” Rabberman shouted. “Get the out [at home plate] now!”
Gaithersburg defeated Northwest 4-2 on Friday at GHS in a battle of 4A teams near the top of their respective division standings. The Trojans (4-1) lost their previous game 9-0 to defending state champion Sherwood, but left Friday’s contest pleased after overcoming mistakes. The Jaguars (4-1) entered the game undefeated but came away frustrated after their first defeat came via blown lead.
The game was originally scheduled for Thursday at Northwest, but inclement weather pushed the contest to a different day and venue. The Jaguars were the home team despite playing on the Trojans’ field.
An RBI single by catcher Michael Shannon gave Northwest a 1-0 lead in the first inning and the Jaguars added a second run on a Gaithersburg throwing error in the third. But Northwest managed just two singles the rest of the way and was hurt by rally-killing base-running blunders in the seventh.
“We take away from this that you can’t make mistakes against good ball clubs,” Varesco said. “You make one or two mistakes and that puts you in the loss column. Our guys understand that; they certainly don’t like this feeling of losing. I told them today, ‘Take that feeling that you have today and make sure you crank it up a couple notches tonight. We don’t want to feel that ever again. Take that loss and make it drive you to the win.’”
Gaithersburg did its part to help Northwest to an early lead. Two first-inning Trojan errors led to the Jaguars’ first run and a throwing error gave Northwest its second run. Gaithersburg finished with four errors, all in the first three innings.
“We didn’t play great,” Rabberman said. “There are a lot of things that we need to do better and we can play a lot better than the way we played. But I think it’s a testament of our character that things didn’t go well for us today and we found a way to win a ballgame. I think last year we would have lost that game.
“Everything [was] against us: we’re hitting balls right at them, they’re making all the plays [and Northwest pitcher Matt] Cononie did a great job throwing the ball. I don’t think we were as mentally tough last year as we are this year. I think that’s a big testament to our kids and the growth that they’ve had in the program.”
Gaithersburg tied the score at 2-2 with a two-out rally in the fifth. With two outs and nobody on, center fielder Zack Fetters drew a walk and shortstop Max Heldman singled. After a double steal put runners on second and third, second baseman Mike Toomer drove a two-run single to left-center. Left fielder Connor Mitton gave the Trojans a 3-2 lead with a sacrifice fly in the sixth and Fetters scored on a wild pitch in the seventh.
After his clutch two-run single, Toomer took over on the mound and earned the victory in relief, pitching two scoreless innings. Cullen pitched a scoreless seventh for the save.
Toomer “did a great job at the plate,” Rabberman said. “We hadn’t scored a run in 12 innings and that kind of just broke the seal and got everybody calm. Then he came out and did a great job on the mound and shut them down. Once you tie the game like that, you can’t let the other team back in and he shut the door which is really important.”
Cononie suffered the loss for Northwest. The senior right-hander pitched 5-plus innings, allowing three earned runs on six hits while walking two and striking out two.
“He did fantastic today,” Varesco said. “He’s been pitching great all season. … He’s got guys at the plate a little miffed, and that’s a good thing for us.”
Rabberman said junior Stephen Lee was scheduled to start on the mound for Gaithersburg but was scratched due to having the flu. Freshman Nick DeCarlo got the start and pitched four innings, allowing two unearned runs on three hits while walking one, hitting one batter and striking out seven.
“I think we were a little bit overzealous at the plate and Gaithersburg took advantage of it,” Varesco said. “I always want my guys to be aggressive hitters, but we’ve got to be a little less aggressive when we’re playing good ball clubs because we need to see the right pitches.”
Gaithersburg travels to face Poolesville at 1:30 p.m. today. Northwest travels to face Churchill at the same time.
Gaithersburg is a “great ball club,” Varesco said. “Playing them is what we need to see and hopefully we see them in the playoffs. … We just said right now, ‘Let’s put it out of our minds tonight and go back tomorrow and see if we can put a big number up over at Churchill.’”
Gaithersburg 4, Northwest 2
123 456 7 R H E
GHS 000 021 1 4 8 4
NHS 101 000 0 2 4 0
WP --- Mike Toomer (2IP, H)
LP --- Matt Cononie (5+IP, 6H, 3R, 3ER, 2BB, 2K)
SV --- Billy Cullen (IP, 2BB, K)
Key Northwest hitters --- Michael Shannon (1-3, RBI); Zach Bubb (1-4, R)
Key Gaithersburg hitters --- Billy Cullen (2-3, R); Mike Toomer (1-3, 2RBI)