McLean Baseball Makes Base Lanes His Playground

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There’s a good chance McLean won’t put up a big run total in a single set. The Highlanders get the job done by scoring one here, two there – and before you know it, they’ve got another win.

McLean (13-6) lacks power in his roster, but the team made up for it with basic running ability.

Supported by what coach John Dowling calls “the three fastest kids I’ve ever coached” – junior Jakob Luu, senior Griffin Stieg and rookie Gabe Pegues – the Highlanders lean on their legs.

On 70 stolen base attempts this season, McLean went 64 times (91.4%).

“When we have guys, we’ve been extremely disruptive on the bases,” Dowling said.

McLean prides itself on having players in its lineup who can make an impact at any time. The Highlanders are in good physical shape from their time in the weight room, and they are mentally savvy to take runs and read pitchers.

While it’s lucky to have a squad full of players who are good base runners, Dowling and his longtime assistant Ryan Christoff have focused on controlling base paths.

Dowling said he tries to give players the freedom to fly when they feel confident and their willingness to take risks has been important to the Highlanders’ success.

Luu has only been ejected once in the past two years — when attempting to steal home from second base on a wild field.

Pegues isn’t a regular fixture in the lineup, but he’s one of the first names to be called on the bench, and it’s easy to see why.

“When he comes in, the game stops,” Dowling said. “The pitchers take a second look at the first because his lead is so big.”

Since arriving on campus in the fall, Magruder’s Colin Abrams has quickly established himself as one of Montgomery County’s top distance runners.

Of the nine races Abrams has entered this spring – in events ranging from 400 meters to 1,600m – the rookie has finished in first place eight times.

The only time Abrams was beaten was in the 400 last month at the Trojan Invitational, where he finished fourth.

Magruder’s distance coach, Sarah Wassner Flynn, was presented with an interesting puzzle – how to nurture Abrams’ greatness without pushing him into burnout.

“Colin is clearly a generational runner,” Wassner Flynn said. “But usually the riders who dominate that early career fade from the spotlight as they mature due to overwork and things like that. We don’t want that to happen to Colin.

Considering Abrams has been racing competitively since he was 10 years old, starting with the Montgomery County Firebirds Track Club, it’s even more vital that Wassner Flynn manages his workload properly.

Wassner Flynn’s plan – which includes banning Abrams from long distance training outside of practice – has worked so far. In addition to his eight wins this season, Abrams’ 800-meter time of 1 minute 54.71 seconds on April 30 at the Gator Track and Field Invitational was the best time in the nation by a freshman.

“Watching Collin is such a fun experience,” Wassner Flynn said. “He’s such a mature rider in the sense that he knows how to manage his pace properly and do what it takes to win every race.”

About three minutes into an Anne Arundel County game last week, North East striker RJ Breeden scored on South River goalkeeper Greg Usher to give his team an early boost.

“I was very close to getting it too,” Usher said. “So I knew I had to do it for the rest of the game.”

At the end of South River’s 14-5 win, Usher was on the safe side of a unique stat. In what is believed to be the first game in Maryland Public School history in which both goaltenders recorded 20 or more saves, Usher finished with 20 saves and North senior Blaine Bennett -Est, made 23.

“That’s kind of what I do,” said Usher, a committed senior at Mount Olive University (NC). “I’ve been doing it since I was in second grade.”

While playing in a tournament at Anne Arundel Community College as a sophomore, Usher’s club team was missing their goalie. Usher, who was a face-off specialist, was intrigued by the wider mesh of the goalie stick and taped a cup to his boxers to play the position.

Competing with a broken right thumb in March, Usher recorded one of the program’s all-time best marks with 29 saves in South River’s 11-10 victory over Southern.

“If I get tagged, I try not to let it bother me and get the next one,” said Usher, whose team is 9-5 in the 4A playoffs. “Because if you have a bad mindset, the rest of the game goes downhill.”

Last spring, when Meridian’s Mustangs won the Virginia Class 3 title, their success was spurred in part by an incredible sense of urgency. With the pandemic threatening every practice or game, the team had no choice but to stay in the present. There is a distinctive power in such a mindset, and coach Frank Spinello thought it would dissipate over time.

“Because we missed a year before, we were making every day count. Because we didn’t know when it was going to be taken away from us,” Spinello said. “And I thought there would be a big drop in because of that, but it seems that we had the same attitude this year. We are just grateful to be there.

Meridian (9-0-1) is a Class 3 contender again. Given a busy schedule this spring, the Mustangs have found more time to build chemistry. One of the main catalysts for this process was the Smoky Mountain Cup, a prestigious Tennessee tournament the team had entered twice before.

“We’ve all been in the same place for a long time,” Spinello said. “This tournament requires us to travel together on a bus for eight hours and then stay in a cabin for three days together. We get the value of a bonding season in three days.

They kicked off the tournament by taking on two national powerhouses — Westminster (Ga.) Farragut (Tenn.) — on back-to-back days. They picked up two 2-0 wins, an early sign that this Meridian side had the potential to hit the program’s high bar for success.

“The way we approached these games and the professional attitude we had when we walked onto the pitch not only impressed me, but surprised me,” Spinello said.

Harold B. McConnell