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FairfaxPanthers reach MAC baseball tourney final

Panthers reach MAC baseball tourney final

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With a couple of one-run playoff-tournament victories, including a win over the top seed, the No. 4 seeded Potomac School Panthers find themselves in a familiar and maybe an unlikely spot.

With those triumphs, the high-school baseball team will play the No. 2-seed Maret Frogs in the championship game of the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament at 10 a.m. May 14 at St. Albans School in Washington D.C. The teams split two regular-season games.

Potomac School won MAC-tournament titles in 2015, 2016 and 2018, was defeated in the semifinals in 2019, and there was no such competition the last two seasons because of the Pandemic.

With an injury-filled campaign this spring, including the loss of its top two starting pitchers, the Panthers became a younger and inexperienced team, and quickly had to regroup with its success during the 2022 season and playoff hopes in question. The squad’s play and competitive edge improved as the regular season progressed, which continued in the MAC tourney.

“I knew we would battle and would hit. But if you had told me in March that we’d get to the tourney final with all of our injuries, I would have said that’s 50-50 at best,” Potomac School coach Eric Crozier said.

Seniors Andrew Ruggeri and T.J. Takis were the Panthers’ top two pitchers and starters at other positions. They have been sidelined all season with injuries.

“Not having them has made things more difficult,” Crozier said.

It also made the team younger. There was just one senior starter in the lineup in Potomac School’s MAC semifinal game.

In the MAC playoffs, the Panthers persevered in the first two games, scoring late-inning runs to win each.

In the first round, Potomac School won 8-7 in walkoff fashion over No. 5 seed and visiting Georgetown Day by scoring four runs, helped by two errors, in the last of the seventh inning. Drew Turner’s two-run double was the winning hit. He had three hits (two doubles) and three RBI in the win.

Tim Mellis added two hits and Owen Peterson (sacrifice fly), Marcus Burrell and Kelly Crittenberger all had a hit each. The team had 10 hits and took advantage of six errors by Georgetown Day.

In the semifinals, Potomac School nipped the host and top seed Flint Hill Huskies, 2-1. The Huskies defeated the Panthers in two regular-season games.

In the semifinal win, Ruggeri had the game-winning, pinch-hit RBI single up the middle in the sixth inning, scoring Charlie Djorup. That at-bat was Ruggeri’s first of the season, and he hit the first pitch.

“He was begging to get in the game,” Croizer said.

A fifth-inning double by leadoff batter Burrell drove in Mellis with the Panthers’ first run. The team had nine hits and made no defensive errors.

Turner and starting pitcher Paul Witkop each had two hits, with Crittenberger, Mellis and Patrick Wolff having one each.

Witkop, who has become an ace of the staff, enjoyed his best and busiest outing of the season to get the win. The tall sophomore right-hander threw six innings, allowing just three hits and one earned run, he struck out nine, walked two and threw 106 pitches. He had a perfect game through three innings with six strikeouts, including five in a row to end the third.

“He was a bulldog,” Crozier said of Witkop. “Today, Paul pitched, he made big pitches and he was the guy. He had to be the guy today. He did not play last season because of an injury, and he had to grow up quick this year. He has become a student of the game.”

Lefty Davide Bertuzzi pitched the seventh inning to earn the save for the Panthers. He fanned two and picked off a runner at first, one he had earlier hit by a pitch.

“I think the difference in the game was execution and they executed better in spots,” Flint Hill coach Mitch Mendler said. “The pickoff in the seventh hurt and their pitcher had his pitching working.”

Tyler Cariola had an RBI single in the fifth inning for Flint Hill to tie the game, and J.T. Landwehr and starting pitcher Stuart Morrison had the other two hits.

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