Respect is restored. Winning a state championship does such a thing.
After a disappointing and season-ending playoff loss in a first-round district-tournament baseball game last spring, the perennial power and multi-time state champion Madison Warhawks were embarrassed. So quickly thereafter, the team’s motto for the 2023 campaign became “restore respect.”
By winning the recent Virginia High School League’s Class 6 state tournament with a 3-0 record, the team’s mission was accomplished. Madison (23-5) capped the tourney title June 10 with a 5-4 win over its Concorde District rival Westfield Bulldogs in the championship game at John Champe High School in Aldie.
The state crown is the program’s sixth and fourth under current head coach Mark Gjormand (481 career wins). The last came in 2021.
This year’s the team was on the brink of elimination multiple times during its eight playoff games (7-1 record), but rallied and persevered, sometimes with the help of defensive mistakes by opponents. The Warhawks had three postseason walkoff victories, rallied to win in the state semifinals after trailing 3-0, and scored the winning run in the VHSL final in the top of the seventh inning, breaking a 4-4 tie.
“We didn’t draw it up that way, but things worked out,” Gjormand said. “We really wanted to win the state with this group. This team has had some great moments.”
The biggest moment was the state final, a game in which Madison led 4-0, before Westfield rallied to tie at 4 and take control of the momentum.
The Warhawks quieted that edge when hard-throwing senior right-hander and team pitching ace Bryce Eldridge took the mound in relief in the fifth with two runners on and no outs. He struck out three straight batters to end the threat, then set the side down in order in the sixth and seventh to get the win and finish with an 11-0 record this season. Eldridge fanned six of the nine hitters he faced, including the last two, throwing 41 pitches.
“Bryce wanted the ball, he was ready and was on his game,” Gjormand said. “What a great way for him to end a great high-school career.”
Said Eldridge: “It means so much to finish my time here this way at Madison.”
Eldridge also helped Madison score its fifth and winning run in the top of the seventh when he was intentionally walked to open the frame. He was pinch run for by Cole DeSimone, who then was sacrifice bunted to second by Jason Cassidy. The bunt was followed by the game-winning line-drive single to left field by Eli Novario, who had been hitless in his first three at-bats in the contest.
“I’m glad the coaches had confidence in me in that situation because I was 0 of for 3,” Novario said. “I wasn’t nervous at all. Our team has been in games like this all year and we know how to win games like that.”
Cassidy said he welcomed the opportunity to bunt, despite having two previous hits in the game.
“I cleared my mind during that at-bat and did what I needed to do, then let Eli come through like he did,” Cassidy said. “We wanted the season to end like this.”
Madison scored its first four runs in the third inning when Kyle Tyrrell and Connor Moore singled and Mac Lewis walked. Later, Eldridge had a sacrifice fly, Cassidy and RBI single and the final two runs scored on an error.
The meeting between Madison and Westfield was the fifth of the season between the teams, with the Warhawks winning three times. Westfield defeated Madison in the championship game of 6D North Region tournament, with Madison doing the same in the preceding Concorde District tourney.
In the state semifinals, Madison rallied from that 3-0 deficit to defeat Colgan, 4-3, at John Champe on June 9 in a rematch of the 2021 state-championship game that the Warhawks won.
In the 2023 semifinal, Madison scored four runs in the sixth inning off a Colgan relief pitcher. Cassidy was the winning pitcher in relief for Madison and sophomore righty Cael Yates got the final two outs on groundouts to earn the save.
Yates said he wasn’t nervous taking the mound in his eight-pitch pressure moment, with a runner on second.
“I loved that situation,” Yates said. “I simplified things and was pumping the zone, throwing fastballs and curves.”
Madison pitching coach Justin Counts said Yates has pitched in some other big situations this season.
“We trust him,” Counts said.
Madison scored its runs in the sixth with the help of two walks, one with the bases loaded, and a hit batter. With the bat in the sixth, Moore had an RBI fielder’s choice, Lewis had a sacrifice fly, Tyrrell added an RBI single and Novario singled.
In the first round, Madison took advantage of poor West Springfield defense and pitching to defeat the host Spartans, 9-3. Errors, walks, wild pitches, hit batters and a balk contributed to Madison runs.
Eldridge started and pitched four innings to get the win. With the bat, Eldridge doubled, Novario had two doubles and two RBI, Cassidy (double) and Cooper Charneco were hit by pitches with the bases loaded to earn RBI, Lewis had a hit, Niko Papathanasiou had an RBI single and a run-scoring triple, Hector Orozco doubled and Tyrrell had a sacrifice bunt.
NOTES: Gjormand’s son, Trevor Gjormand, was a starting senior infielder for Madison this season, but missed the playoffs with an arm injury. “It was a privilege to win a state championship with your son on the team,” Mark Gjormand said. “Even when he was hurt, Trevor continued to do things to help the team.” . . . Madison’s four victories in state-championship games under Mark Gjormand all have been by one run. Two were by 2-1 scores, another 6-5 and this season’s 5-4 final. Two of the wins were walkoff triumphs. “There’s a lot of stress there,” the coach said.