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The Student Newspaper of Jackson-Reed High School

The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of Jackson-Reed High School

The Beacon

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A year to remember: varsity baseball crowned state champions

The Tigers won both the DCIAA and DCSAA Championships to cap off a magical season.
VARSITY+BASEBALL+CELEBRATES+-+Baseball+team+holds+up+their+DCSAA+trophy+after+beating+Maret+in+the+finals.+This+is+their+first+state+championship+since+2018.
Cory Royster/DCSAA
VARSITY BASEBALL CELEBRATES – Baseball team holds up their DCSAA trophy after beating Maret in the finals. This is their first state championship since 2018.

When Robinson Mateo took over the Jackson-Reed baseball program last summer, the new varsity head coach believed the team had something to prove.

And they did. Winning their 31st straight conference title and then their first state championship since 2018—a 5-4 win over Maret at Nationals Academy last month—the Tigers showed that they’re not just a powerhouse program in the DCIAA, but also the region.

“You never know who you’re playing and you have to prove who you are,” said Mateo, a 2012 JR alumnus who played shortstop for the Tigers. “We just came to the point of becoming a family and kept believing in each other and adapted to that.”

In the state final, the Tigers entered the bottom of the seventh and final inning trailing by a score of 4-2. The Tigers tied the score on an infield ground ball by junior Ryan Skelly that sent home two runs. Then junior third baseman Etan Rosario stepped into the batter’s box with runners on first and third.

With the count one ball and no strikes against Maret’s Villanova-bound pitcher Ben Pew, Rosario hit a chopping ground ball up the middle and into centerfield, scoring junior centerfielder Zander Leckszas from third base and capping a comeback that crowned the Tigers as state champions.

“Going into my at-bat before I could step in, Coach called me over and told me, ‘We all have full belief that you can do this, so don’t think about hitting a home run and just hit it on the ground,’ ” Rosario said. “Stepping in the box was surprisingly the calmest time I’ve ever been in, because of the support I had behind me.

“That whole game doesn’t feel real—it felt and will forever feel like a movie,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and the support I received in that moment.”

With a final record of 23-7, the Tigers broke a grueling curse of four consecutive losses in the state final. The state championship was the Tigers second ever, after the 2018 title that ended with the same 5-4 score, over St. Albans. 

The 2024 playoff run began on May 3, where the Tigers rolled Phelps 24-0 and Eastern 19-0. On May 8, the Tigers beat School Without Walls 13-0 for the DCIAA championship.

The Tigers faced some obstacles on their road to glory in states. With its home field at Fort Reno unplayed because of rain, its final home game in states was moved to the Sidwell Friends campus. Despite the hurdle, JR still won, 9-3. In the semifinals the Tigers came from behind to beat Gonzaga on the Eagles’ home field at Nats Academy, 3-1. The Tigers couldn’t practice at Fort Reno until two days prior to the final against Maret.

“We knew we had a tough path. Instead of backing down from this we embraced it and took every game as a challenge,” senior right-handed pitcher Casey Edwards said. “We fought hard and never got complacent or gave up. We kept the foot on the gas until we had the trophy in our hands.”

The Tigers went 8-7 against private schools, with regular season wins over Sidwell, the Landon School, Gilman, Avalon, and a split doubleheader with IAC champions Georgetown Prep. Notably, rain in March’s regular season portion of the schedule delayed play for two weeks. “We had a lot of momentum coming off the wins against Sidwell and Landon in March, but that was erased because of the two weeks of downtime,” said sophomore right-hander Nelson Hayes.

STATES SUCCESS – Varsity baseball poses with the signature DCSAA banner after their win. After furthering their 31 year winning streak in DCIAA championships, they capped off their season with a state championship win.

But the Tigers remained hopeful. “We consistently compete with teams that have multimillion-dollar facilities while we’re a public school that regularly gets kicked off our own field,” Hayes said. “While teams such as Gonzaga and Maret relied on their superior facilities and big-name college commitments, we relied on our perseverance and a universal love of the game.”

That self-awareness translated into how the Tigers prepped between games. The Tigers implemented “captains’ practice” sessions every Sunday to engage with teammates they normally wouldn’t see outside of baseball while still focusing on improving.

“The Sunday practices were extremely beneficial in the way that they facilitated communion within the team,” said junior shortstop Jackson Loomis, who was named DCIAA Player of the Year. “Since coaches weren’t there, it was a way for the team to bond into a family. We would go to team lunches after, and it overall did a very good job strengthening bonds.”

“If the kids aren’t willing to listen and implement what the coaches are asking them to do, then you’re not going to see results,” pitching coach Kelli Jenkins said. “These kids are the most coachable group of kids that you’ll find.”

Hitting coach Luke Wallis, a 2016 Tigers alumnus, said the state final “was a good metaphor for the whole season. We got no-hit for the first five innings, and regardless of the talent on this team, the heart and the fight is the best in the city, and possibly one of the best in the country.”

After knocking on the door for several years, the Tigers are back on top of high school baseball in DC. Although the program will say goodbye to cornerstone senior leaders, the roster is filled with 13 juniors. With summer and fall ball ahead in the offseason, the Tigers will look to build on the foundation already in place.

Skelly, who drove in the tying run against Maret, offered one line to wrap up the 2024 spring: “Started from the bottom, now we’re here.”

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Justin Glenn
Justin Glenn, Sports Editor
Justin is a sports fanatic.. you’ll most likely see him with a baseball cap of some sort throughout the hallways. If he isn’t writing about high school sports, he’s likely watching a D.C. sports team, NASCAR or some other professional league in his free time. Outside of sports, he enjoys the outdoors and watching Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, besides that, he’s an average out-going person.
  • 2023-24: Assistant Sports Editor
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