Joey Sullivan believed he had something to prove to himself, his teammates, his opponents and critics when he took the mound for the McLean Highlanders tonight.
And prove the senior right-hander did in a huge way. Sullivan threw a one-hitter to lead visiting McLean to a 1-0 upset victory over the Oakton Cougars in a first-round game of the 6A North Region baseball tournament.
McLean (13-1) was the No. 4 seed from the Liberty Conference, while Oakton (14-8) was the top seed from the Concorde Conference.
Sullivan never let the Cougars get going in what the Virginia Tech-bound recruit and his team's best player said was his best outing of the high school season. He struck out eight, walked two, hit a batter, threw 105 pitches, and retired the final seven hitters he faced. No Oakton runner reached third base.
A two-out solid single to right-center by Dale Good in the fourth was Oakton's only hit.
"My curveball was working tonight, and that was my out pitch and the key," Sullivan said. "My fastball was good and I threw changeups well."
Sullivan said he had "something to prove" because he didn't believe he enjoyed the type of standout individual season he had hoped. He put too much pressure on himself and didn't play loose enough.
So Sullivan wanted to prove his worth and silence some of the critics, who wondered if he was good enough to pitch at the Division I college level.
"I wanted to prove I was still one of the best pitchers in this region and that I could pitch at Virginia Tech," Sullivan said.
McLean coach John Dowling said Sullivan was able to keep his fastball low in the strike zone and that kept the pitcher hard to hit.
"It has been the same all year. When Joey keeps his fastball down that's the most important thing, then his other pitches work off of that," Dowling said. "That's as good as he's thrown this year."
McLean played solid defense behind Sullivan, making just one error. In the first inning, Sullivan fielded a smash up the middle by Joe Rizzo and started an inning-ending double play on the grounder.
"We have the formula figured out and we know we can do well when we play good defense," Dowling said. "Then we have to squeeze out a couple of runs."
McLean had seven hits. The Highlanders scored their run in the fifth when No. 9 hitter Matt Bielamowicz doubled, took third on Sullivan's groundout, then scored on a single by Conor Grammes (2 for 3). Sullivan, Grady Paine, Jesse Jones and Colin Morse had McLean's other hits, all singles. Morse, Grammes and Jones had sacrifice bunts.
Senior right-hander R.J. Gaines started and pitched six strong innings to take the loss. He allowed six hits, walked two and struck out one.
“R.J. was very good for us, but it’s hard to be better than he was,” Oakton coach Justin Janis said about Sullivan. “He pitched a great game. It’s a disappointment not to be able to move on in the tournament.”
So far, Sullivan is 2-0 in the postseason with two shutouts. He got the win in McLean's 5-0 victory over South Lakes in the Liberty Conference 6 Tournament semifinals.
Next, McLean plays a region quarterfinal game on Monday at Battlefield, a 4-0 first-round winner over South County.
NOTE: Sullivan's curveball worked well against Oakton. However, while warming up in the bullpen before the game, Sullivan was concerned because he bounced his first couple of curveball. "By the end of bullpen, I had it working pretty well," Sullivan said.
* In another local first-round games tonight, the Langley Saxons (14-9) defeated the visiting Westfield Bulldogs, 5-2. Senior left-hander Jake McSteen (8-1) threw a complete game, with nine strikeouts to get the win. He walked two and allowed nine hits. The two runs he allowed were earned and McSteen threw 108 pitches.
With the bat for Langley, Brian Anderson had a three-run double, Brandon Day belted a two-run homer, and Jordan Lopez had two of Langley's five hits.
"We only had five hits but we made them count," Langley coach Kevin Healy said.
Langley plays West Springfield in a quarterfinal game on Monday at 7 p.m. in Springfield.
Also tonight, the Madison Warhawks (20-2) topped the Herndon Hornets, 3-1. Madison won despite getting just one hit.
"We weren't very good but we were good enough," Madison coach Mark Gjormand said.
Madison hosts West Potomac in a second-round game on Monday at 7 p.m.