By Josh Belanger
The NVCL will begin its highly anticipated playoff tournament Wednesday night with the league-leading Night Owls entering as the top seed and apparent favorite to win the league championship.
The Night Owls (15-2) ran away with the regular season title, clinching by four games over the second-place Sliders (11-6). Powered by their juggernaut lineup, the Night Owls lead the league with 153 runs (nine runs per game) and 29 home runs - 13 of them coming off the bat of first baseman Rob Weissheier. Weissheier is tops in the league in home runs, RBI (32), runs (25) and OPS (1.940).
Lucas Donlon is one of several other weapons in the Night Owls’ murderous row of sluggers. The third baseman leads the league with 25 hits and ranks third with 22 RBI. He also added seven doubles and a home run to his campaign. Carter Cunningham is another player to watch for the Night Owls, finishing the season with seven homers and 21 RBI.
The Night Owls don’t appear to have any real weaknesses in their lineup, batting .329 with an on-base percentage of .453 as a collective unit. Not to mention, they have five players with an OPS north of 1.000. Pitchers, good luck!
The Night Owls rotation is headed by right-hander Nick Stewart (4 wins, 1.42 ERA), who has been one of the league's most consistent arms all season allowing just four runs in 19.1 innings. Randy Prosperi (2 wins, 2.80 ERA) and Jack Braley (2 wins, 2.33 ERA) have also been reliable options for the Night Owls.
It will be interesting to see how coach Sal Colangelo manages the tournament and who he decides to pitch in the quarterfinals against the 4-13 Chili Dogs. I anticipate Stewart being saved until Thursday, however as a wise coach once said, “Never save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it may rain.” Or may never come.
There may not be a lineup that can match up toe-for-toe against the Night Owls, but on any given night anything can happen. The Sliders and Hot Wings (10-7) both pose serious threats to take down the Night Owls with deep lineups and pitching staffs while the Bunt Cakes (9-8) enter the tournament playing their best ball of the season, having won five of their last seven games.
The potential to have the Bunt Cakes left-hander Jay Cassidy (3 wins, 1.27 ERA) square off against the Night Owls sets up for a thrilling semifinal game. That’s all assuming the Night Owls survive their match-up with the Chili Dogs, who have lined up Wes Glass (3 wins, 17 K) and Danny Leo (1.07 WHIP) to pitch, and the Bunt Cakes advance without throwing their ace.
Michael Grupe (3 wins, 2.21 ERA) for the Sliders and Everett Catlett (30 K, 3.56 ERA) for the Hot Wings also promises an exciting semifinal if both teams can win on Wednesday. Grupe or Garret Newsome (18 K, 2.26 ERA) will likely take the mound for the Sliders while Kenny Lippman (21 K, 1.05 WHIP) will likely start for the Hot Wings in the quarterfinals. The Hot Wings do have the option to pitch Catlett, who last threw 56 pitches over 2.2 innings on Saturday.
In terms of the rest of the field, the Gators (5-10-1), Yard Dogs (6-11) and Rough Riders (5-10-1) all have what it takes to upset their higher-seeded opponents and advance to Thursday’s semifinals. Hunter Bell (0.88 WHIP) and Antonio Menendez (21 K, 2.33 ERA) will both likely pitch for the Gators and Yard Dogs respectively, presenting tough obstacles for their opponents. The Gators and Yard Dogs also combined for four homers and 19 runs in their final game of the season.
The Yard Dogs will lean on the league’s leading hitter Michael Ludowig (3 HR, .489 BA) and Brady Drawbaugh (6 HR) to pace the offense against the Sliders, who have allowed the fewest runs this season (67). Eric Lingebach (5 HR, 28 RBI) and Justin Taylor (2 HR, .457 BA) will need to continue their production for the Rough Riders if they are to upset the Hot Wings.
The Rough Riders ace O’Kelley McWilliams (3 wins, 19 K, 2.04 ERA) pitched Monday night and will most likely not be available for tomorrow’s quarterfinal games. Rough Riders coach Tom Verbanic will likely lean on Brendan Albrittain (14 K, 1.08 WHIP) and Ryan Dudak (16.1 IP) for the bulk of their innings on Wednesday.
In the final day of the regular season, all four games were decided by one run including an extra-innings thriller between the Gators and Chili Dogs and a walk-off win for the Night Owls. Along with the back-and-forth contests, yesterday also saw plenty of power with nine home runs being smashed. If the last day of the regular season was a taste of what we are to see during the playoffs, you can count me in for the full course and dessert.
The NVCL playoffs will be more of what we have been seeing all month long: competitive baseball featuring power bats, electric arms and incredible defense. If you cannot make it out to Madison High School or Waters Field in Vienna, you can tune in to watch a live stream of all the games at nvcl.sportschannel.media. The playoff tournament will be single elimination with the championship game being played as a nine-inning game. The full schedule is listed below:
Wednesday, July 29th - Quarterfinals
- G1- Chili Dogs (8) vs Night Owls (1) at 4:30 pm at Waters Field
- G2- Gators (5) vs Bunt Cakes (4) at 7:30 pm at Waters Field
- G4- Rough Riders (6) vs Hot Wings (3) at 4:30 pm at Madison HS (may get moved to 2 pm)
- G3- Yard Dogs (7) vs Sliders (2) at 7:30 pm at Madison HS (may get moved to 5 pm)
* If lights aren't working at Madison HS by Tuesday evening, we will move games up to 2 pm and 5 pm at MHS
* Higher seed is home team
Thursday, July 30th - Semifinals
- G5- 4:30 pm at Waters- Winner of G1 vs Winner of G2
- G6- 7:30 pm at Waters- Winner of G3 vs Winner of G4
Saturday, August 1 - Championship
- 11 am at Waters- Winner of G5 vs Winner of G6 (9 innings)
* Regular extra inning rules for Championship Game only. No international rules.
Photo of Rob Weissheier courtesy of Fred Ingham