Landon rallies late, then holds off Bullis for IAC baseball title

[READ ARTICLE IN THE WASHINGTON POST]

The most clutch at-bat in a high school career full of them came with two outs in the top of the seventh inning. Randy Bednar Jr. faced a full count, with his Landon team trailing rival Bullis by a run. Smelling blood, Bullis students jostled closer to an opening in the fence, ready to revel in the Bulldogs’ first Interstate Athletic Conference title on their home field Friday evening.

Bednar and Bullis closer Raffy Baumgardner battled. Bednar fouled off one pitch after another. Finally, the Maryland commit got what he wanted: a rising fastball down the middle that he sent soaring toward center for a run-scoring double, forcing extra innings. An inning later, Landon’s Matt Brady scored the decisive run on an error for a 5-4 win, spoiling Bullis’s party and giving the Bears (13-6) their first IAC baseball title since 2011.

As confident as the Bullis students were of a title, the Landon bench was more so in its belief in Bednar.

“We knew exactly what was going to happen,” said Brady, a senior. “We’re all confident in him. We told him before he went up there, ‘You hit a double, and we’re going to tie this game.’ ”

After falling behind 2-0 early, Bullis (12-8) used a four-run third inning to grab a lead. Solid pitching from Baumgardner and freshman Henry Pavco-Giaccia staved off aggressive base running from Landon, which stole seven bases but struggled to reach home plate until Andrew Lowrie came racing home off Bednar’s seventh-inning blast over the center fielder’s head.

That tension-ridden plate appearance was nothing new for Landon’s most reliable hitter. Bednar had long attracted college scouts with his fearless batting, and he was familiar with Baumgardner, a former youth baseball teammate with the Olney Pirates.

“I told myself I wasn’t going to go down looking,” Bednar said. “I was going to go down swinging either way.”

Even after Bednar’s piece of clutch hitting, the Bears still had work to do. Brady sent a hanging slider to right field for a single to lead off the eighth inning, then stole second. Drew Whalen’s grounder then snuck through the first baseman’s legs to score Brady.

“I was on my horse,” said Brady, whose manic sprint proved the winning run. “I knew I was going to score no matter what. I’ve never had that feeling before. You feel invincible.”

Landon senior Patrick Lightner dispatched three of four batters to close the seventh, and the Bears survived a Bullis rally in the eighth to hang on.

After his mid-interview Gatorade bath, Landon Coach Bill Reed only could shake his head when he was asked to recall the final at-bat of his senior slugger’s decorated prep career.

“He was just waiting for his moment,” Reid said, “and there it was.”

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