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Wilson, Ballou expect to contend
(Published March 7, 2005)
By MICHAEL HOFFMAN
There's no question, going into this year's D.C. Inter-scholastic Athletic Association baseball season, that Wilson Senior High's Tigers are the team to beat.
The Wilson squad has built a Yankee-like dynasty in local baseball, winning 12 consecutive championships dating and accumulating a record of 160-1 over that time. Last year, the Tigers had little trouble defeating a scrappy Eastern Senior High team, composed of many players who had just begun to competitively play the sport – in stark comparison to a Wilson squad that, year in and year out, is widely regarded as the deepest in the league.
Despite the graduation last year of two senior pitchers who overwhelmed hitters with their speed and control, Wilson looks to be in good shape once again. Senior center fielder Raphael Turner, who Coach Eddie Saah considers the fastest player in the league, will lead off the batting order. Three other seniors – pitchers Nick Morrison and Tommy McCarthy, as well as second baseman Tommy Moore – will factor greatly into whether Wilson can win the championship again this year.
Once again, the league's real competition may be a battle for who will be in second place.
In DCIAA softball, last year's championship game carried drama of the highest degree as the back-and-forth game was suspended by rain with an 8-8 tie going into the sixth inning. When the game finally resumed, Coolidge senior pitcher Ashley Alexander, who was widely regarded as the best softball player in D.C., slapped a homerun that would turn out to be the winning run in a 10-8 Coolidge victory over Ballou.
With Alexander gone, the Ballou Knights look to be in a strong position to take, or at least again contend for, the title. Ballou will be led by senior Ikeia Gafford, a control pitcher who Coach William Brockenberry considers one of the best players in the league.
"She knows all the tricks of the trade, and she's consistent," Brockenberry said of his star pitcher.
Besides being an outstanding pitcher, Gafford can play third base proficiently and can "do it all offensively," Brockenberry said.
Another player who should keep Ballou in contention for the championship is senior shortstop Crystal Moore. Moore, who displayed fearless composure in lunging for groundballs during last year's championship game, is Ballou's toughest player in Coach Brockenberry's mind and also one of the most eager learners.
"She'll go all out on defense, and when you go out and teach something to her, she does everything you ask her to," the coach said.
At Wilson, first-year softball Coach Harold Singletary does not face the kind of scrutiny and expectations that characterize Wilson baseball, where winning seems to be the only option.
"We want to win, but we want them to enjoy themselves," Singletary said of his team. "We're going to foster an environment for everyone that comes out, including the people who this is the first time they are playing an organized sport."
Singletary also plans to focus heavily on working with players on an individual basis to try to improve their skills and focus. One player, though, who will require less improvement is Wilson senior Alisha Remono, a pitcher who – along with Gafford at Ballou – is considered among the best in the league. Pitching appears to be the strong point of this year's Wilson team.
This year will mark the first time in 34 years that D.C. residents can watch a full schedule of high school baseball, college baseball and Major League Baseball played in the city. While many softball and baseball coaches say they are excited about the District regaining a major league team, they also are hoping that more attention will be paid to the condition of their fields as the city in general pays more attention to baseball.
For now, the field situation at most schools is tough. Ballou's Brockenberry remembers a game in which his softball team and a football game were in such close proximately to each other that he considered the game to be going on in his outfield. The biggest problem, he said, is the unavailability of many good fields.
"We have a lot of good fields we can use, but they're all being used by Catholic schools and private schools," Brockenberry said.
Because of this and other logistical problems, many teams including the baseball champion Wilson Tigers, find themselves in a bad situation.
"We play baseball on a football field and, right now, Nebraska Avenue is our left field," said Wilson's Coach Saah.
Coolidge baseball Coach Bryan Crumpton has much the same problem as Saah, but feels that change might be on its way.
"We play behind our school at Takoma Park and there is not enough room, as it's basically room for soccer. With the Nationals coming, hopefully people will pay more attention to the field," Crumpton said.
Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator