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Jul, 2022



by Ben Nuckols

Wyatt Nicholson was cruising on the mound for the Fairfax National 10-12 Majors All-Stars during a tense, scoreless tournament opener against ANSLL on Wednesday night in Annandale. He allowed a leadoff single in the fourth inning before calmly retiring the side on a strikeout, a grounder and another strikeout. That’s when manager Matt Oliveri made his move, taking Wyatt out of the game. 

Wyatt had thrown 48 pitches, and pulling him meant he’d still be available for Saturday’s elimination games. Oliveri knew he had enough pitching to handle ANSLL while setting up his staff to thrive in the rest of the tournament. He brought in Liam Houff, nicknamed “Mailman” because he always delivers, and Liam did just that, retiring the side on nine pitches in the fifth. 

Fairfax National finally broke through in the top of the sixth, scoring two runs. Liam threw another nine-pitch inning. And that was the last time Fairfax National had to play the sixth inning during the District 10 tournament. Three days and four blowouts later, Fairfax National was the district champion. 

Fairfax National will return to the Virginia Little League tournament for the first time since 2019, but a trip to states is nothing new for most of this roster and coaching staff. Ten of the 14 players on this year’s All-Star team won the state title last year in the 9-11 division. When Chantilly’s players arrived at Burke Field for Thursday night’s game, they stared at the faces of those state champs on a photo banner adorning the press box. 

Wyatt, Jayden Parker and Will Zech played as 11-year-olds on last year’s 10-12 team but returned to Fairfax Little League for another chance at a deep summer run. They join a balanced roster that can overwhelm opponents with powerful hitting, crisp defense and smart baserunning in addition to its deep, talented pitching staff. 

It was Jayden, the fastest player on the team, who led off the sixth against Annandale’s superb starting pitcher with a perfectly executed bunt single down the third-base line. Sam Stewart followed with a sharp single to left and then cleanup hitter Wyatt delivered the big blow, a ground-rule double to right-center that made it 1-0. With two outs, Hendrik Van Der Walt looped a single to right to make it 2-0. That was more than enough cushion for Liam, who threw first-pitch sliders for called strikes to fan the first two batters in the sixth before ending the game on a flyball to center fielder Cole Frank. 

Playing before a swelling, red-clad home crowd Thursday night in Burke, the Fairfax National offense went to work, scoring six runs in the first inning against Chantilly. Will drove in two with a single, Billy Nuckols drew a bases-loaded walk, Ryan Oliveri hit a sacrifice fly, Shaun Ryan smacked an RBI single, and Billy came home on a double steal. 

Starting pitcher Jayden worked an easy second inning and Ryan took over on the mound in the third. A three-run homer got Chantilly within 7-4, but Fairfax National finished it off in the bottom of the fourth. Wyatt doubled off the fence in center to make it 8-4 and Will followed with his third run-scoring single of the game. Pinch-hitter Liam lined the only pitch he saw to right field to make it 12-4. With runners on second and third, Cole grounded a single through the left side and Liam came around to score the 14th run, ending the game. 

On Friday night against SYA West in Centreville, Oliveri gave the ball to starting pitcher Jack Taets and let him cook. Consistently locating his fastball and slider, Jack threw a complete-game, 50-pitch four-hitter as Fairfax won 11-1 in five innings. Facing a lefty pitcher who tried to keep them off-balance with a mix of slow and slower breaking balls, Fairfax National went on top early on a no-doubt three-run homer to center field by Wyatt, then chipped away with two more runs in the third, four in the fourth and two in the fifth. Sam went 3-for-3 with two doubles and three runs scored, Wyatt went 2-for-2, and Shaun, Jack and Will had consecutive doubles in the fifth that ended the game. 

The Fairfax National offense had its most thorough, efficient performance in Saturday’s 12-0 semifinal win over SYA East in Centreville -- not that it was necessary with Liam on the mound. He threw a complete-game, four-inning shutout, allowing only one hit, a grounder through the left side in the fourth. He needed only seven more pitches. Though the outfield didn’t see much action, right fielder Jaxen Clewell was ready, running to grab a short flyball to end the game. 

Fairfax National pounded 14 hits in three innings. A spectacular diving catch by the SYA center fielder prevented Fairfax from scoring in the first, but the team got right back to work in the second. Hendrik led off with a single, Billy lined a double to left and Ryan lofted a double inside the foul line in right field to score them both. Cole added an RBI single and Wyatt rocketed a two-run double to center to make it 5-0. 

Fairfax National had a scary moment leading off the third when pinch-hitter Brennan Bardolf was hit in the head by a pitch. The ball glanced off his helmet and nailed him in the cheek, but Brennan shook it off and remained in the game, later sliding aggressively into third on a passed ball. Jaxen followed Brennan with a single and Tommy Holley singled to score them both. Cole had an RBI double, Sam followed with a two-run single, and Billy made it 12-0 with another two-run single. 

Meanwhile at Chilcott Stadium, Fairfax American rallied from a 9-2, fifth-inning deficit, scoring five runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth for a walk-off, 10-9 win over ANSLL in the other semifinal. That set up a National-vs.-American final, a familiar scenario during this tournament season. Fairfax American beat Fairfax National for the district titles in the 8-10 Majors and both Special Minors divisions this year. 

But at the 10-12 level it was Fairfax National’s year. Wyatt took the mound in the title game in Centreville, allowing his only run of the tournament in the first inning. But the NL began the bottom of the first with seven consecutive walks, ultimately sending 13 batters to the plate to take an 8-1 lead. Fairfax scored seven more runs in the second, capped by Wyatt’s second homer of the tournament, a two-run, first-pitch drive to right-center. 

Wyatt did the rest on the mound, completing his four-inning two-hitter on a routine grounder fielded by second baseman Jayden, who threw to first baseman Ryan to end the NL’s 15-1 win. 

Fairfax American had an exciting tournament run before running out of gas in the final. It began on Wednesday night against SYA East in Centreville. The AL fell behind 2-0 in the first inning before sending 13 batters to the plate and scoring nine times in the second. Ryan drove in three runs in the inning on a single and a double, pinch-hitter Owen had a two-run single and Baker had a run-scoring single. 

Relief pitcher Daniel dominated with the big lead, allowing no hits and striking out three in 2 1/3 scoreless innings and combining with starter Cole to throw a one-hitter. 

The AL then enjoyed a very short game against COLES, scoring seven runs in the first inning and 16 in the second to win 23-1 in three innings at Chilcott Stadium. Pitchers Baker and Quinton combined to throw a three-inning no-hitter. Cole hit a two-run homer to center field in the second inning, and Ryan finished the game 3-for-4 with four RBIs and three runs scored. 

Then came the dramatic rally against ANSLL in Saturday’s semifinal at Chilcott. Things looked bleak for Fairfax American when ANSLL scored twice in the fifth inning to extend its lead to 9-2. But ANSLL’s relief pitcher couldn’t get through the American League lineup a second time. The first six batters reached base, and Emmett and William had RBI singles as the AL got within 9-7. William came on to pitch the sixth and worked around a two-out double. 

Cole led off the bottom of the sixth with a single. With one out and a 2-2 count against Baker, ANSLL made a pitching change. It didn’t pay off. Baker launched the reliever’s first pitch over the wall in left field to tie the game at 9-all. Emmett followed with a single, and after a walk and an error loaded the bases, pinch-hitter Daniel grounded a single through the right side to send Fairfax American to the title game. 

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