McLEAN — With the experienced team he has this year, Osbourn High School baseball coach Keith Howell didn’t hesitate Wednesday to apply a little pressure.
Needing a road victory to advance to the first-place game of the Highlander-Saxon Invitational, he asked the Eagles to treat the last game of round-robin play as if it were a postseason matchup. Though still in March and in just its third game of the season, Osbourn proved tournament-ready with an 8-6 win over McLean.
The Eagles collected 14 hits, with each of their nine starters managing at least one. Junior shortstop Chris Kearney singled and tripled as he went 2-for-4 with two runs and a run-batted-in. Brandon Armentrout allowed six runs (four earned) on just three hits in the first five innings, setting the stage for fellow senior right-hander Robert Lydick to earn a save as he retired all six batters he faced.
“It was a good test to see how we’d play when the game was on the line,” said Howell, whose team outscored opponents 20-1 in the first two games of this tournament. “Not only was it a close game, but it was a meaningful game. I told the kids before the game to play as if they had to win it — and I wouldn’t have done that last year. They better get used to it, because it’s going to be that way all year.”
Osbourn advanced to the final, which won’t be played until a later date — if it’s played at all. Park View-Sterling already planned not to play today in observation of Passover. Park View won the Langley bracket by going 2-1 and scoring more runs (18) than two other teams with the same record. The tournament was orignally scheduled to wrap up Wednesday, but rainouts created a scheduling conflict.
In Osbourn’s pool, each of the other three schools went 1-2 while the Eagles were 3-0. McLean, though, had a shot to reach the final because a win would have made them 2-1 with a head-to-head victory over Osbourn.
Lydick didn’t let that happen, once he entered an 8-5 game in the sixth inning with runners on first and second and no outs. Following a sacrifice bunt, he retired designated hitter J. P. Kearns on an RBI grounder and then struck out second baseman Andrew Carr. In the seventh, a pop-up, grounder and fly ball put the game away.
“That’s the first time I pitched this season, and I hadn’t really warmed up much,” said Lydick, who also doubled and scored two runs. “When Coach walked in [to remove Armentrout], I thought he was going with Devan [Ewell]. I didn’t know he’d go with me, but it worked out.”
Ewell. a strong-armed center fielder, has yet to pitch for an Osbourn team that has demonstrated depth in its pitching staff. Jess Stewart cruised to a 9-1 win over South Lakes on Saturday (with relief help from Armentrout) and Mike Merryman pitched a five-inning no-hitter against Washington-Lee on Monday.
McLean (2-3 overall) scored four runs in the sixth inning, but was unable to overcome Osbourn’s early success. In the first, the Eagles scored on an RBI single by Stewart and a passed ball. In the second, Mike Stover hit a sacrifice fly before Kearney tripled home a run. Kearney eventually scored on a wild pitch to put Osbourn ahead 5-0.
After the Highlanders scored twice on only one hit in the second inning, Osbourn added a run in the third (on a Merryman fielder’s choice) and two in the fifth (on a two-run single by Kevin Potter).
“I think [the Eagles] are real strong, one through nine,” McLean coach Joe McDonald said of Osbourn, which went 8-15 last year. “All those guys can hit and they play good defense. We saw their number three pitcher and then a reliever who hadn’t pitched, and they looked good, too.”