With a runner on second base in the bottom of the 12th inning against Potomac High School Thursday night, senior Justin Petok stepped into the batter's box for the sixth time.
The Panthers had just made their third pitching change of the night, so Petok settled into his stance and waited, unsure of what to expect. He swung through a fastball pitch and sat on an off-speed ball. Then, on the third pitch he made contact, which seemed to catch Potomac off-guard.
The ground ball skimmed across the mound—barely missing the glove of pitcher Drew Bringvel—into center field, which brought Chase Upham across home plate for the walk-off win and coach Jason Ritenour's 110th career victory.
The three-hour marathon game against Potomac is the longest game Ritenour has coached.
“I'm glad they kept their composure, stayed focused, and gutted out a win,” said Ritenour, now in his eighth season as the Vikings' head coach. “Danny McCormick came in and threw excellent in relief.”
McCormick not only threw 59 pitches over six innings, in which he allowed only two hits and one run. But at the plate, McCormick successfully executed three sacrifice bunts and earned an RBI walk. His performance Thursday is a testament to why Glenville State College in West Virginia recently signed him to pitch as a freshman.
“I don't normally throw that many innings, I'm just a reliever, so that was pretty crazy for me,” said McCormick. “That was one of the best games I've ever pitched. I felt awesome out there, but when we finally scored I felt so happy because I didn't know how much longer I had in me.”
The Vikings' roster this season includes three other seniors who have already committed to play ball in college next year: Brandon Gum will play at , Tyler Thomas will play first base and pitch at Sheperd University, and Petock will pitch at Bridgewater College. Excluding this year's senior class, Ritenour has coached more than 10 players onto college level baseball.
“He's an amazing coach and a great pitching coach,” said McCormick. “Before I got into high school I was always the hot-headed kid, but when I got here he calmed me down and taught me to keep my composure. Like in that last inning when I had runners on first and second and no outs, that would've been a time where I had gone crazy, but I kept my composure and got out of it.”
Additionally, Ritenour assists in football operations and has coached several players onto college football programs, one of whom is current Woodbridge senior Andrew Maddox who will play lineman at Old Dominion University next year. After Maddox's sophomore year, Ritenour encouraged him to focus more on football, which resulted in a Division I scholarship.
“He was also at the time playing hockey and I told him, 'If you're not going to be able to continue to work a whole lot on baseball, I don't know where you're going to fit your next two years,'” said Ritenour. “I said, 'but in my opinion, if you were to commit yourself to the weight room and focus on football, you're a Division I player.' If you have a multi-sport athlete that really excels at one sport, I think that as a coach you owe him your opinion."
"I would never discourage a student from playing another sport, but if they're dominant in one and that's gonna be their ticket to a college scholarship, then that's what they should probably pursue,” said Ritenour.
When talking with players it's apparent they all feel a great debt of gratitude is owed to Ritenour for his aid in their development and his dedication to placing them in a position to succeed not only on the field, but in life, as well. However, Ritenour remains modest about his accomplishments.
“They were blessed with the physical ability,” said Ritenour. “I'd like to think that we've helped them develop along the way, but they have to possess the ability to make it happen. We would definitely not take credit for that. You also have to attribute some of that success to who's coaching them during the summer as well.”
Ritenour's focus is so much on the team and the players that he didn't even know he had reached the 100 win mark with his first victory of the season.
“To be honest, I didn't realize it until a parent brought it to my attention,” said Ritenour. “I then forgot about it, but my coaching staff remembered and let me know after the first game this year against North Stafford. It was a good achievement, but I've been lucky to have good players.”
The Vikings are now placed first in the Cardinal District, with hopes of returning to postseason play as they did in 2010 when they were crowned district and regional champs before losing in the VHSL AAA state championship to West Springfield.
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