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Hylton sluggers top Potomac for tourney title

Defeating Potomac 3-2 on the Panthers' home field April 17 at their own tournament in extra innings for the championship title amounts to a pretty nice victory for the Hylton varsity baseball team.

Yet beating Woodbridge 5-3 three days earlier counts more in the grander scheme as the Vikings compete against the Bulldogs in the Conference 4 standings.

It's an odd year like that for the defending two-time Northwest Region championship Bulldogs now that the Virginia High School League realigned the schools and shifted around conference rivals.

Given that Hylton competes at the Group 6A matter, games against quality Group 5A opponents like Potomac and Freedom (April 25) just don't amount to much other than for purposes of stat-padding and players gaining varsity experience.

In fact, even Wednesday night's game this week (April 23) in Haymarket against Battlefield, the team Hylton eliminated from the regional playoffs in the semifinals to gain an automatic berth to states, doesn't mean too much, given that they're in different regions this year.

If the Bobcats and Bulldogs end up tangling in the post-season, it will have to be during the state semifinals or championship, depending on whether each team wins its region or comes in second place.

That's the only route to the final four this year as there are just two regions competing for four spots. With Patriot entering this week undefeated, Prince William County could well have at least three teams clinching a state berth this season, if Patriot and Battlefield both make it to the North Region finals.

For Hylton, winning it all is a matter of unfinished business this season.

"The last two years, we've been at the door but we can't find the right key," said Hylton head coach Craig Flesher. "We've got to find that right key; maybe that'll be what we need to bust that last door down."

After losing a majority of his starting line-up to graduation last year, Flesher received a welcomed surprise this season from the offensively potential Bulldogs that put up ridiculous margins of victory against teams like Woodgrove (22-4 final score) and Stonewall Jackson (17-0 final score) earlier this season.

Prior to the Woodbridge game, Hylton had not been in a single competitive game through six played, even beating Osbourn Park 8-1.

"This group is playing with a little bit of a chip on its shoulder," explained Flesher, mentioning that the 2014 crop of boys "feel they're just as talented and they feel like they want to make a name for themselves this year. So it'll be interesting to see how that plays out."

According to Flesher, baseball is broken down into three main categories: pitching, hitting and defense. While that does away with base-running, Flesher's point is that if his players perform well in two of those three categories, they have a good chance of winning.

Perform well in all three and "you could be dominant," he said.

"We don't really have a feel like we've had all three yet," Flesher added.

What has been consistent for Hylton is pitching and defense.

Against Potomac, Hylton pitcher Brandon Barbery turned in a complete game performance through eight innings, though his counterpart Jake Blevins did the same through seven innings.

It took a bases loaded walk in the bottom of the eighth for Hylton to win after Barbery allowed just two runs, both in the fourth inning.

"Our pitching carried us that night," said Flesher, explaining that Barbery kept his pitch county down and retired the Panthers in order for three straight innings at one point.

However, 12 runners left on base signaled to the head coach that while his pitching and defense held up, Potomac out-pitched his hitters in several clutch situations.

"We can be scary good but that hasn't happened," said the coach, clearly excluding some of the lopsided Hylton wins from earlier in the year.

Joining Barbery, who plans to attend Virginia Military Institute for college, is Austin Magnestro, bound for the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and a trio of pitchers fighting for the third spot in the roster.

That list includes Trey Shepard, Fox Semones and Marcel Barrett, all of whom pitched during the Potomac tournament.

"Hopefully one of them really starts to establish (himself) and become a clear-cut three," said Flesher.

As long as Hylton can produce a minimum three or four runs a game, Flesher contends, "We're going to at least be in (the) game ... So all five of them working together are probably the reason why we are where we are at this point in April."

Their battery mate is junior Riley West, who earned a spot on the all-tournament team by filling in for injured teammate Will Frazier.

West has worked "a lot" with former Hylton player Robert Kelley, a catcher who earned first-team, all-district status in his senior year during the 2011 season.

"Our pitching staff has been able to feel confident to throw any pitch in any count and feel confident that he's going to keep it in front of him," said Flesher about West.

Meanwhile, the coach credited Magestro, Will Frazier and Ben Marotske with producing quality at bats, along with newcomer Semones, as the Bulldogs prepare for the second half of the season.

"We want to keep the samll picture in mind and look at the situation where you kind of build (during the season)," said Flesher. "We're not looking to be April champions. What we want to do is peak at the end of May or June when tournament season starts."
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