By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Jim McElhatton)
There wasn’t much mystery surrounding the sorts of pitches T.C. Williams ballplayers would see when Billy Lescher of West Potomac took the mound against the Titans in the bottom of the sixth inning Tuesday night.
Lescher, who hits speeds above 80 mph, has a reputation for coming straight at batters. But his excitement at being on the mound gave T.C. its best shot of erasing a 4-1 deficit with Wolverines’ starter Michael Barnes finally out of the game.
Leading off, shortstop Greg Everett walked after four pitches. He went to third on a couple of pitches in the dirt before senior Noah Ray worked a 3-2 count for a walk. That put the tying run at the plate with one out.
The Wolverines’ A.J. Melvin, who has been catching for Lescher since they were 9 years old, walked to the mound to calm down the hurler. The talk worked. Lescher got two quick outs to end the inning.
“He didn’t try to do any trickery, he came straight at us,” said T.C. coach Jim Blair after the 4-1 loss. “On a night when we weren’t swinging the bats well, he put it right in the zone and forced us to hit.”
T.C. is coming off one its best seasons in years, advancing all the way to the regional playoffs last season. But the Titans also are without their star player from last year, pitcher Alec Grosser, who was drafted by the Atlanta Braves.
“At this juncture, I think we’re a team trying to find an identity without Alec Grosser,” Blair said. “We’re a team of predominantly juniors and seniors this year. Instead of riding the coattails of one guy, it’s time for everybody to work collectively to achieve the goals we have.”
The Titans displayed a bit of tenacity against the Wolverines. After West Potomac scored three runs in the top of the first inning, T.C. starter Jacob Katz regained his composure and kept the Titans in the game before leaving at the end of the fourth inning.
But back to the bottom of the first. T.C.’s leadoff hitter, Pat Devine, was down 0-2 in the count when he hit a double down the third base line. He stole third and scored on a grounder by Everett.
Tyler Ratliff hit another double down the third base line on the next at bat. He stole third but was stranded after Barnes got a strikeout and groundout to end the inning.
T.C. never was able to get much offense going against Barnes, who pitched five innings and gave up just a single run. In the fifth, Barnes notched two strikeouts while quickly retiring the side.
But the Titans had two missed chances at tying the game: The scare in the sixth inning and one last, desperate chance in the seventh.
In that final inning of the game, the Titans’ JP McLaughlin fought off a fastball inside for a leadoff single. After two strikeouts, Lescher seemingly had the game wrapped up on a routine grounder, but Devine reached first on an error.
Once again, T.C. had the tying run at the plate. But Lescher clamped down and got his third strikeout of the inning to close out the game. The loss leaves T.C. 0-2 still early in a season delayed by snow-related game cancellations.
“T.C.’s a good team and I was a little nervous up there, but once I came back to my pitches and started firing them in there for strikes, I felt better,” said Lescher, who has committed to the University of Pennsylvania next year.
Wolverines head coach Jim Sullivan, who credited his starter’s strong performance, said that despite the score, West Potomac never got too comfortable with the lead.
“T.C. battled, they always do,” Sullivan said. “But we felt if [Lescher] didn’t get overhyped and walk them, he could beat them.”