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Colonials use solid start to aim for breakout season

by nick eilerson

staff writer

On the surface it looks like just another season for the Jefferson baseball team: same coach, same players, same equipment, same diamond. Their uniforms are the same, just as the cocky scowls that creep onto opponents’ faces upon seeing those uniforms remain the same.

So why do things feel different this year in the Jefferson dugout?

The change in the air this spring has little to do with a roster sheet and everything to do with an unusual figure recurring in the box scores next to it: ‘W,’ as in ‘Wins.’ It’s a word rarely associated with TJ baseball in years past: the Colonials racked up just 10 wins compared to 48 losses in their last three seasons.

Two weeks into its 2013 campaign, Jefferson boasts a 3-3 record that just might be the beginnings of its best season in years. Long accustomed to the indignity of the slaughter rule, the Colonials are looking at it in a whole new light so far this year, having demolished Wakefield 10-0 in the season opener and Falls Church 12-2 on Wednesday.

The key to the turnaround lies in the determination of a senior-laden squad bent on turning their losing stigma on its head. Plenty of experience has returned to a unit that carried just three seniors last year, which ended up with a 2-17 record.

“We have 13 seniors coming back, so we have a ton of experience,” said starting pitcher Jack Brown, who threw four strikeouts in four innings against Falls Church Wednesday. “Last year we were close in a lot of games, and we just weren’t putting it together. Some games we’d be scoring a lot but we wouldn’t be fielding well. Some games, especially toward the end of the season, we were playing some really low scoring games. So this year, we’ve got everybody coming back, and there’s a lot of camaraderie with the guys. We’ve all been playing together for awhile.”

Chief among those seniors is Brown, an imposing lefty at the mound who, along with fellow senior Michael Chan, is undergoing his fourth varsity season. With his future more vested in football, Brown had to skip travel baseball last summer in favor of preparing for his senior season on the gridiron. That turned out to be a fine decision, as he led the Colonials to the playoffs in their best season since 2004, a feat that didn’t disappoint the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’ll play defensive lineman/linebacker next year.

Still, Brown was able to play baseball over the summer for a smaller team that included several of his Jefferson teammates. His willingness to take on such a difficult balancing act embodied the strong bond that currently has the Colonials jelling on the same page.

Their cohesion was on full display last Tuesday against perennial Liberty District power Stone Bridge, a team that had beaten Jefferson on 14 straight occasions and crushed them by a collective score of 49-1 in the schools’ previous four meetings. Solid pitching by seniors Ian McConnell and Michael Chan combined with excellent hitting from senior third baseman Michael Goodson (3 for 4 with two doubles and an RBI) to seal a 6-4 win over the defending district champs. The victory marked the Colonials’ first Liberty District win since beating South Lakes on May 3, 2011.

“We came into that game not really knowing what to expect,” Brown said. “Stone Bridge is always a tough team, and we had been beaten pretty badly by them in the past. But we knew with Ian out there, he was going to give us a chance. We got a few runs early and we really jumped on them.”

Brown and company might have suffered from a bit of over-confidence after that result, as they proceeded to drop close games against South Lakes, Osbourn Park and Lee before bouncing back with a five-inning win over Falls Church.

Second-year coach Craig Lewis, who took over for David Gardziel after serving as an assistant for four years, noted his team’s lack of timely hitting during that stretch. Lewis has been impressed with his unit’s overall increase in hitting rate to this point, but he wants to see his players grind them out in crucial situations down the stretch this year.

“You just have to put the ownership back on them and make them want it more; be a little bit more aggressive, be a little bit more confident,” said Lewis, who also teaches Design and Tech at TJ. “That goes a long way in proving to themselves and to others that they can compete with any other team here.”

If they can find that swagger, the Colonials could reach their goal of reaching the region tournament this spring.

“I tell them it’s totally achievable,” Lewis said. “We’re right there on the line, and we have a chance to step right across. If we keep playing the way we practice, and we’re 100 percent into every practice and every game, we’re going to make a difference in this league.”

neilerson@fairfaxtimes.com