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McLean High team wins first state championship in baseball

Highlanders finished 3-0 in Class 6 tourney with two comeback victories

The pitching was strong all season for the McLean Highlanders. What made the big difference during the playoffs for the high-school baseball team was its previously spotty defense tightened significantly and the hitting became more timely and productive.

As a result, McLean (19-10) compiled a 7-2 postseason record, including a 3-0 mark in the Virginia High School League’s Class 6 state tournament to win the competition for the first time.

McLean defeated the South Lakes Seahawks, 15-5, in the June 8 title game at Deep Run High School near Richmond. South Lakes had defeated McLean a few days earlier in the 6D North Region tourney final, and the Highlanders also were second in the Liberty District tournament.

“The only way to win this time of the year is to have guys willing to buy in. They battled and scratched and clawed and did that for the last month. You can’t be striking out 13 times a game,” McLean coach John Dowling said. “We took care of the baseball and didn’t compound our mistakes.”

South Lakes didn’t play well in the state final, walking 11 batters, making seven errors, tossing two wild pitches and hitting a batter. With the bat, the Seahawks struck out 11 times.

McLean, which had 12 hits (all singles), took advantage of those mistakes to score in each of the final five innings and pull away. The Highlanders’ hitting was led by the bottom of the order, as the first four batters were hitless.

Number five hitter Aydin Prell had three hits and an RBI, Jamie Coates had two hits from the seventh spot, in the eighth position J.W. Harrington had two hits, two RBI and two sacrifice bunts, and No. 9 batter J.W. Riggins had two hits, three RBI and two sacrifice bunts. Jack Dailey, Kyle Peterson and Evan Un had the other two hits. Cleanup batter and starting pitcher Brennan Core (two innings of work, no earned runs) had a bases-loaded walk.

Leadoff and No. 2 hitters Gabe Pegues (stolen base) and Ryan Soong each walked and scored a run, with No. 3 batter Ethan Ball walking twice.

On the mound for McLean, senior righty Jack Nance worked 41/3 innings with eight strikeouts to get the win in relief. Alex Gonzalez (7-1) got the final two outs, both strikeouts. The three pitchers combined to scatter six hits.

Nance had a 5-2 record with three saves this season, as he was switched from a starter to a reliever, and thrived at the role in multiple games, especially in the post season.

“The added pressure of the playoffs helped us connect more as a team and we elevated our play,” Soong said.

Yuta Shimo had been McLean’s leadoff hitter but missed the state tournament with a knee injury.

“We had good pitching all season, but once we got our lineup going with the bats we sprang to life,” Shimo said.

In the first round, McLean defeated the host Lake Braddock Bruins, 5-1, as Gonzalez got the win and Nance worked two shutout innings of hitless relief with four strikeouts. McLean rallied from an early 3-2 deficit to down Glen Allen, 10-4, in the June 7 semifinals at Deep Run.

Against Glen Allen, McLean scored three runs in the top of the second to move ahead for good, and added five more in the seventh.

McLean senior right-hander Aidan Carey pitched a complete game, allowing no runs and just one hit over the final four innings. He retired the final nine batters he faced and 12 of the last 13. Overall, he allowed eight hits (four in the first inning), two earned runs, did not walk a batter and struck out three. He threw 80 pitches.

Carey threw primarily inside pitches over the final innings, with Glen Allen batters struggling to hit that pitch.

“My pitching coach made some adjustments and told me to throw all inside pitches because they weren’t catching up with those,” said Carey, who will pitch in college at George Washington University.

The win was Carey’s biggest in his four-season varsity pitching career for McLean, finishing with a 15-4 record (6-1 this season) and five saves. He was 3-1 each of his first three seasons.

“It feels awesome to win the state. It has been a fun year,” Carey said. “Our hitting really came through lately. After we beat Lake Braddock we really thought we could do this.”

McLean hitters had eight hits off six Glen Allen pitches, led by a two-run, first-inning homer by Ball and his double in the seventh. Pegues had a three-run double, Soong added one hit and two RBI, Prell and Coates (double) each had a hit and one RBI and Riggins had a hit.

McLean had seven hits and took advantage of four errors, a hit batter and walks to defeat Lake Braddock. Prell’s opposite-field ground-ball single to left field in the first inning scored Soong to give the Highlanders a 1-0 lead. Soong was hit by a pitch, then advanced to third after an Ball single and an error.

The lead grew to 3-0 in the fifth inning. Pegues (two hits) singled and scored on a double by Soong, then Core (two hits) singled home Soong. McLean’s final two runs came in the seventh when Pegues singled again, Soong walked, an error led to the fourth run, Core singled and Prell got his second RBI on a groundout.

See more on the game in a story at

NOTES: The 15 runs McLean scored in the state final were the second most ever in the VHSL’s highest classification for that game and the most since Kempsville defeated Marshall, 16-4, in the 1975 state final . . . McLean was 2-1 versus South Lakes this season, winning a game during the regular season . . . Shimo will play college baseball at Waseda University in Japan, Soong at Washington University in St. Louis and Nance may try to walkon in college . . . McLean had a 5-1 record to start the season, then fell to 5-6 with a losing streak that included four straight one-run losses and a fifth loss by two . . . McLean coach John Dowling ended the season with 153 career victories as a head high-school baseball coach. He has coached McLean since the 2014 season and was the head coach at Lee High School (now Lewis) in Springfield a couple of seasons before taking over the Highlanders.