LYNCHBURG – Win or lose, Lafayette’s baseball seniors were going to have a graduation ceremony Saturday afternoon on the baking artificial turf of Liberty University Baseball Stadium. The only question was whether they would enjoy it, or have to endure it.
Luc Lipcius’ solo bomb over the Liberty University right-field fence in the top of the seventh inning settled that. This was pure jubilation. The Rams closed out the 5-4 Group 3A state championship win over Loudoun Valley in the bottom of the seventh inning before a dogpile at home plate ensued. Lafayette secured its first state baseball title in school history.
And less than 30 minutes later, the Rams’ six seniors heaved high in the Blue Ridge Mountain air their caps – their navy-colored mortarboards with yellow tassels –not their blue and white tri-colored style baseball caps.
“It was either going to go awesome or crappy,” said Lafayette senior Dan Blankinship. “This was the way to do it.”
Dan Barner, Lafayette’s athletics director, rushed to put on his cap and gown after the final out. He emerged from the dugout and instructed his players to line up for what was their diamond version of graduation commencement.
Senior Austin Cohn led the procession near the third-base line and was followed by classmates Blankinship, Jeremiah Antle, Patrick Cheek, Austin Bauer, and Matt Keane. Their names were read over the public address system as they walked toward home plate through a gauntlet of their teammates, who on each side extended bats to form a proper tunnel.
Only an hour or so before and a stone’s throw away across Liberty’s pristine athletic campus, Jamestown claimed the 4A boys soccer title. A dozen Eagles seniors missed their graduations in Williamsburg, too. Not surprisingly, none seemed fazed by it.
“I actually would prefer graduating and doing what I love,” said Jamestown senior Jeff Wolons, who scored his 46th career goal in the 3-0 rout of Hanover. “Getting the win on top of it, that was just everything I could ask for.”
Jamestown held a small ceremony for the seniors and their families at nearby E.C. Glass High on Friday night.
The initial plan was for the Lafayette baseball, Jamestown soccer and Warhill softball seniors to have a joint celebration at Glass on Friday, but incessant weather delays dampened those plans and the Lions’ season ended on Friday in the semifinals.
Jim Kelly, the Williamsburg James City County school board chair, was to preside over the ceremony and did for Lafayette. His son, Dan, was one of the Jamestown boys soccer seniors.
“It’s a fun occasion,” Dan Kelly said of traditional graduations, only moments after a raucous celebration with teammates, “but it’s kind of an hour and a half sitting down in a chair listening to somebody. This is much more enjoyable. We’re not too upset about it.”
Wolons, Kelly, Wilson Coughenour, and goalkeeper Trevor Hartnett each were on Jamestown’s 2012 state title team. They entered and left as state champions.
“They’re soccer junkies,” Jamestown coach Bobby O’Brien said of the group of 12. “They want to be here and play soccer. I don’t think it was difficult for them. They were with their friends. They were with each other. They had a great time all weekend, on the bus, and in the hotels, playing videogames, all that kind of stuff.”
Barner said the diplomas the Rams received Saturday were duplicates and indicated that the ceremony took place Saturday, June 13 at Liberty Baseball Stadium. The authentic ones were waiting at home in Williamsburg, a wait all 18 seniors, their families and anyone involved were thrilled to make.
“They would rather be in state than graduation,” said Lafayette baseball coach Rick Schenk. “They’re going to get their diplomas. It’s not all the time you get a state championship.”
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-345-2352.