So voraciously did the Kettle Run ace Joe Vogatsky attack the Loudoun County Raiders lineup in the middle to late innings that it looked like he had a plane to catch to Cooperstown.
After surviving precarious first and second inning jams unscathed in Tuesday’s Class 4 Region C baseball semifinal, Vogatsky retired 16 of the last 17 batters and allowed no hits in the final five innings in shutting down the upstart Raiders 2-0.
Vogatsky’s lightning fast masterpiece sent the Cougars (15-8) to state for only the second time in their 11-year history (2016). They advanced to the Class 4 state quarterfinals, but first they’ll take a seven-game winning streak into Thursday’s region final against Riverside.
In a superb Joe vs. Joe matchup, the Cougars managed just two hits against Raider standout Joe Alexander, but they had Vogatsky, who also had the winning hit on an RBI single in the fourth.
“Both kids pitched well, throwing a lot of strikes. They had us on the ropes early,” said Kettle Run coach Ty Thorpe.
“We tip our hat to Kettle Run. Their pitcher threw a heck of a game. There was a questionable call, but we gotta score runs. We didn’t score runs,” said Loudoun County coach Matt Landers.
A stocky junior righthander with a bulldog quality, Vogatsky fires his pitches out of a distinctive crouch, lowering his left shoulder and getting low as he delivers the ball.
“My fastball was working. Later in the game I started relying on my offspeed. My slider was really working good. That was my go-to for strikeouts tonight,” said the junior who struck out eight and walked just one.
Loudoun County (9-15) defied the odds by making regionals as the No. 6 seed in the Dulles District. The Raiders ended the seasons of No. 3 seed Loudoun Valley and No. 2 Woodgrove in the district tourney before falling to top seed Riverside in the district final 11-1.
Bidding for another upset, Loudoun County loaded the bases in the first with one out, but Vogatsky struck out the next two batters to end the threat. The Raiders got runners on first and second with two outs in the second, but a scalding lineout to third baseman Declan Downey ended that dangerous chance.
After that Vogatsky was on cruise control, allowing only one baserunner in the fifth when leadoff hitter Spencer Pomata reached on a hard grounder up the middle to shortstop Caden Decroo that was ruled an error.
“He was around 50-something pitches after two and he settled in and lowered his pitch count and just kind of took control,” said Thorpe.
“We helped him out with the offspeed pitches. He has a nice little slider, not sure what it was. He did not throw it for strikes. We swung at a lot of balls,” said Landers. “We missed our opportunity.”
Like any close game, this one was not without controversy. Loudoun County thought they’d picked off Twomey, who reached on a one-out walk in the fourth and scored the eventual winning run. Had he been picked off, the Cougars may not have scored.
Twomey stole second and Vogatsky followed with a hard ground ball single to center that scored Twomey, and allowed Vogatsky to reach second when the ball went under the glove of the Raiders' center fielder.
In an amusing sidelight, Vogatsky looked visibly upset during his at bat after the near pickoff.
“When he got picked off almost, I was like (oh no). But he got back so it gave us another chance. I knew fastball was coming and I got a good swing on it,” said Vogatsky.
Zach Bacan, running for Vogatsky, moved to third on a groundout, then scored on a wild pitch by Alexander, who suffered a hard luck complete game loss. He allowed two hits and walked three and allowed one earned run.
A lead was all Vogatsky needed.
The game ended in a swift one hour, thirty-two minutes with the Vogatsky retiring the side in order in the third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings. He finished a complete game four-hitter with eight strikeouts and one walk.
"We tried to keep the magic going but we didn't have it. We couldn't score for Joe," said Landers, who said Alexander has a minuscule ERA of 0.50 but suffered from tough luck, losing several games in the seventh this year.
After an 8-8 start, Kettle Run is officially on fire.
“We’ve been preaching all year, just go play your game. Play your game and have fun. If you do that good things will happen,” said Thorpe.
While Vogatsky was the hero Tuesday, Thorpe said the team wouldn’t be here without fellow pitchers Zach Ewald and Nate Mabe.
“Forget No. 1s. I’ve had Joey pitch well this year. Zach’s pitched well and Nathan Mabe's pitched tremendous. Nathan Mabe was 6-0 this year and did a heck of a job to get us where we’re at. He beat Millbrook twice and he beat Sherando once as well,” said Thorpe.
Vogatsky says the turnaround came after a 7-6 loss to Fauquier on May 3.
“We got hot at the right time. That’s when you want to get hot. Right now we’re playing really good baseball. We’re putting good swings. We’re doing everything you want to do in baseball,” the junior said.