The momentum Strasburg’s baseball team has built over the last couple weeks carried the Rams to the top of the Bull Run District.
Strasburg, the second seed in the district tournament, went on the road to Falls Church on Thursday night and upended No. 1 seed George Mason in the Bull Run District tournament championship game with an 11-2 win.
The Rams, now the top seed out of the Bull Run District, will host Buffalo Gap, the fourth seed from the Shenandoah District, in a Region 2B tournament quarterfinal game at 6 p.m. Monday.
Strasburg, which didn’t make it out of the district quarterfinals last season, last won the Conference 35 tournament – the past equivalent of the current district tournament format for postseason advancement – in 2015. This year marks the first regional tournament appearance for the Rams under head coach Joe Bauserman, who is in his third season.
“It’s always our goal,” Bauserman said on Friday of winning the Bull Run District tournament. “We expect to be there every year regardless of what team we have. We still want to compete, still want to put the best team out there. I expect us to compete at the Bull Run level and beyond.”
Strasburg (12-10), which had split with Mason (13-9) during the regular season, got on top early on Thursday with a run in the first inning and scored eight runs over the final three frames to blow the game open.
The Mustangs committed six errors in the game, and Strasburg needed only six hits to run its winning streak to four straight.
“We’re starting to understand and see that momentum’s big, confidence is big,” Bauserman said. “You see that in all sports and it turns over and stuff. We’ve got a little confidence and at the same time we’re catching some breaks, but we’re also making those breaks, putting the ball in play and doing some things like that that puts a little pressure on the defense. … And we’ve had some young guys step up defensively, like last night we turned three double plays, which was big momentum-wise.”
Those double plays backed a solid outing on the mound from sophomore Sean McKinley, a midseason junior-varsity call-up who went the distance on Thursday. McKinley allowed one earned run on five hits, six walks and two strikeouts in seven innings pitched.
“Sean pitched a great game. … He threw strikes, got his curveball over. Yeah, he had some walks but I think they were a little later in the game and they were strung out over seven innings. I think he did extremely well,” Bauserman said.
“The name of the game is throwing strikes and we’ve been doing that lately and limiting the walks. And just keeping ourselves in the game, that’s the big thing. And then just not making errors in the field. I think we got lucky (Tuesday) night against Clarke, had a couple errors, but we overcame them and some guys stepped up, and when they made mistakes, the next play they forgot about it, learned from it and moved on. You can see that they’re starting to build off some of the learning experiences they’ve had.”
Trey Stinnette, who drew a walk from Mason starting pitcher John Asel to lead off the game, scored on a wild pitch in the first inning to give Strasburg a quick 1-0 lead.
A Mustangs error in the third inning set up Corey Keller’s two-run double, and the Rams put up five runs in the fifth inning to extend their lead to 8-1.
Mason committed four errors in the fifth inning, which also featured RBI singles from Strasburg’s Alec Campbell and Brandon Martin.
Campbell’s sacrifice fly plated another Ram run in the sixth, and Chris Shelton’s two-RBI double in the seventh gave Strasburg an 11-2 lead.
Keller and Campbell each went 2-for-3 with a double at the plate to lead the Rams, who drew eight walks as a team.
Asel lasted just four innings and allowed three runs (one earned), and though he gave up only two hits and struck out 10, he walked three and saw his pitch count approach triple-digits before he was pulled.
“He was striking us out early,” Bauserman said of Asel. “He had a hard fastball. We were expecting a soft lefty but they ended up coming with the righty and he threw it pretty good. He got us a little early so we started taking some pitches and started getting deep in a lot of counts with quality at-bats. We were able to get some walks, some timely hits and put the pressure on him.
“They were walking us, throwing some passed balls, but we just continued to feed off the momentum – a double play here, come back in, get a run.”
Strasburg next puts its win streak to the test against Buffalo Gap (8-12), which has lost eight of its last 11 games.
“I think I know enough that we shouldn’t be surprised by anything that they do,” Bauserman said of the Bison. “I’ve seen them play. We’ll be ready for them.”