A 4-4 conference record is a distant memory for the Briar Woods High School baseball team as it heads into the state semifinals. As the weather warmed up, so did the teams’ bats, carrying the Falcons on a five-game winning streak and one game away from the state championship.
Following a 10-0 home thrashing of Halifax County in the Regional Final, Briar Woods faces Newport News Menchville June 9 with a spot in the state championship on the line. Making their third-straight appearance in the regional finals, the Falcons are hopeful this year they’ll take the title to Ashburn.
“We’ve had our most talented team since I’ve been here, and the team has really jelled in the second half of the season,” said head coach Jason Miller, who took over as coach in 2011. “We’re pretty sound offensively, one through nine and we’ve put together a really nice run.”
Briar Woods has been led by senior Jake Kleifges who is batting .456 during the season and an astonish .636 in the playoffs. He also has a team high 11 doubles and 5 triples the season.
“As (Kleifges) goes we go, and right now he’s going pretty well,” Miller said.
He’s joined by a deep senior core including Micheal Ludowig, who leads the team with .471 batting average and 21 RBIs, as well as Sean Clark and Tyler Germanowski. All of them will play collegiality.
Pitching has also been a major factor in Briar Wood’s late run, anchored by staff ace Wilson Ayers. The junior lefthander has a 5-0 record on the year with a dazzling 0.64 ERA in 13 appearances, tossing a team-high 44 innings and recording 62 strikeouts.
Miller said Ayers’ has steadied the rotation down the stretch, better positioning other players like Ludowig to come pitch in relief. Ayers, who plans to play for the Naval Academy after next season, will get the start June 9, which his team believes will help carry them to the state finals.
The Falcons have already come a long way since a third-place finish in the 5A Conference 14 standings. Bad weather forced the team to reschedule six of its eight conference games for a two-week period. But behind Ayers, Briar Woods knocked off No. 2 seed Tuscarora 6-3 in the conference tournament. The next day, the Falcons eked out a 3-2 win over top seeded Stone Bridge, giving them the conference title and a spot in regionals.
“They’re a perennial power and in my opinion one of the best teams in the state,” Miller said. “Any time you can squeak out a win against them it does a ton for your team’s confidence.”
Briar Woods then beat Orange County 5-3 and Dumfries Potomac 8-1 setting up the regional final against Halifax County. The Falcons blew the doors off the visiting Monarchs, who featured Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year Andrew Abbot.
“That game was pivotal,” Miller said. “Once we won that game, we started to believe that anything was possible.”
The Falcons look to carry that momentum against Menchville. Playing at Chantilly’s Westfield High School, and on the last day of school for Briar Woods underclassmen, Miller said he expects an energetic, supportive crowd. Win or lose, he said he’s proud of the resiliency from his team of 10 seniors, many of whom have played together since seventh grade.
“We had some low points earlier in the season where we weren’t playing well, but they kept digging and they kept playing hard for each other,” Miller said. “I’ve seen a lot of senior laden teams start looking forward to beach week and start looking forward to graduation. Sometimes senior-laden teams underachieve. These guys refused to let that happen.”