On the first day of Colgan’s baseball practice, head coach Mike Colangelo gathered his players in front of him to highlight a few noteworthy items.
After telling the players to take a knee, Colangelo introduced the revised coaching staff that includes new additions Derek Justice, Logan Farrar and Mike Meadows. Colangelo brought all three in specifically for this season to motivate and connect with the players.
Former college standouts and pro players, Justice and Farrar (a Woodbridge High School graduate) bring youth to the staff. Meadows, a former Gar-Field head baseball coach, brings experience.
After the introductions, Colangelo then touched on some other relevant subjects. He reminded the players this is the first full varsity season for all but two of the seniors after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 campaign and shortened the 2021 season.
He told them turnout had dropped at some other neighboring Prince William County high school baseball teams, but Colgan remains in good shape. In their sixth year since the school opened in 2016, the Sharks had a program-best 46 players come out, including a high of 18 freshmen.
Finally, he mentioned the ultimate goal this season: winning a state title. He did not elaborate why he said it – nor did the players visibly affirm their coach’s proclamation.
The Sharks return all but three players from last season’s 15-1 Class 6 state finalist that lost to Madison 2-1. Eight of those returners are committed to college baseball programs, including six at the Division I level.
The arrival of newcomer Carter Newman from Woodbridge High School only bolsters the lineup. A senior shortstop, Newman is one of Colgan’s four Virginia Tech commitments.
With all this depth and experience, it’s easy to see why Colgan has high expectations.
Ranked fourth in the mid-Atlantic Region by Baseball America, Colgan is in prime position to become Prince William’s first state baseball champion since 1995 and perhaps join the 1983 Potomac team as the county’s only other high school baseball program to finish the season undefeated. The Panthers went 21-0-1 that year to win the Group AAA state title.
But Colangelo mentioned none of this on the opening day of tryouts.
Avoiding any “rah, rah” speeches, he urged his players “to finish the job,” and moved on.
The group then broke up. With their field still requiring work, the team stayed indoors with freshmen and sophomores going to the basketball gym, while the juniors and seniors stayed in the wrestling room.
It was time to go to work.
THE RIGHT PIECES
Colangelo describes Colgan’s loss to Madison in the state final this way: “We lost to a player, not a team.”
That player, James Triantos, was the difference. The senior and eventual Chicago Cubs’ second-round pick struck out 12 and came within two outs of tossing a perfect game, while scoring both runs, including one off a solo homer in the second inning for the game’s first run.
To process the loss, Colgan players went back to their field later that day and spent at least two hours together in the bleachers talking with each other. The conversations helped alleviate the sting. They also ended further discussion about reliving the state final.
Connor Knox benefitted from the post-game bonding session. He took the defeat hard. As the starter, he pitched a good game, but still came up short in allowing Madison’s two runs.
No one is looking more forward to this season than him. Besides the chance to fulfill state-title aspirations, Knox will have a chance to play his first full season after missing his freshman year with an injury followed by no sophomore season and a reduced junior season due to COVID.
“I used it as motivation to get better,” Knox said of the state final defeat. “We all want to get the job done. This is our biggest year.”
Like last season, the key to Colgan’s success starts with its pitching staff.
“There have been better hitting teams in Prince William, but there’s never been a pitching staff like this,” said Colangelo, a 1994 Hylton High School graduate who went on to star at George Mason University and then play for three different major-league teams.
Knox, Ryan Kennedy and fellow senior right-hander Brandon Cassedy, along with junior righthander Brett Renfrow, accounted for all of Colgan’s 2021 wins. Kennedy finished the season 5-0 with a team-best 1.08 ERA. Knox was 5-1 (1.09 ERA), Cassedy 4-0 and Renfrow 1-0. Overall, the staff totaled 159 strikeouts, 29 walks, 11 earned runs and eight shutouts.
“The pitchers feed off each other,” Colangelo said. “My job is to stay out of the way.”
After throwing between 88 and 92 mph last spring, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Kennedy added 20 to 25 pounds to his frame during the offseason and is throwing between 90 and 94 mph.
Major League Baseball teams have taken notice. Kennedy has turned himself into a legitimate draft prospect after performing well with his Canes’ travel team as well as performances at showcase events and through the help of Colangelo’s network and his trainers.
Kennedy, who currently works remotely with Tampa Bay Rays’ minor-league pitcher Tyler Zombro, signed with Virginia Tech after committing to the Hokies going into his sophomore year. He has been on Colgan’s varsity since his freshman year.
Cassedy, the 2021 Cardinal District Player of the Year and a four-year varsity player headed to Christopher Newport University, is throwing between 85 and 88 mph. Renfrow, a Virginia Tech commitment, is at 90 to 93 mph, while Knox, a George Mason signee, throws anywhere from 87 to 90 mph.
And when needed, Colgan can call on junior right-hander Matthew Westley, a Virginia Tech commitment throwing 88 to 92 mph and junior right-hander Christian Abney (83 to 88 mph), who played junior varsity in 2021.
“My seventh pitcher is my son Caden,” Colangelo said of the junior right-hander. “He’d be a top-four pitcher someplace else. But here, he will be a filler right now.”
When not on the mound, Colgan’s pitchers are fixtures in the field, with Kennedy starting at first base and Cassedy starting at third and backing up at short and center field. Renfrow will start in center field and Westley in left field, while backing up Cassedy at third.
Junior Jae’dan Carter (Dayton commitment) will start at catcher, senior Evan Blanchard (George Mason signee) at second base and senior John Stansbury (Paul D. Camp Community College) in right field.
“The number of plus arms and their depth on the mound is as good as I can ever remember,” said Hylton head baseball coach Jason Ritenour. “They have big game experience in all positions”
Another plus is that Colgan is a tight-knit group. There are no egos or self-imposed pressure. They are aware of what’s at stake, but find unity in achieving their ultimate goal.
It helps that the core has known each other for years through little league, travel team and middle school. Kennedy, Knox, Blanchard, Westley and Renfrow all played at Benton Middle School. They also have known Colangelo for some time, starting with the Stars travel-team program, where Colangelo is a coach and the general manager.
“This has definitely played a large role in helping our team come together on the field because of how strong of [the] strong connections we have with one another,” Kennedy said.
For Colangelo, this season takes on special meaning – more than trying to win a state title. It’s also about honoring two individuals who have influenced his life.
Colangelo is dedicating this season to Allen Bock and Niko Agnos, long-time friends who passed away last fall within two weeks of each other from COVID complications at the ages of 42 and 56, respectively.
Bock was a former Potomac standout, while Agnos’ three boys played at Battlefield, including Jake, now in the New York Yankees’ organization, and Zach, an infielder at East Carolina.
To recognize Bock and Agnos, Colangelo assigned each one a jersey and number. Bock received No. 22, his playing number.
“He was a phenomenal person and was someone who I had deep conversations with about developing kids and we always agreed on our mission to better the game,” Colangelo said. “We lost him to COVID way too young.”
The Agnos’ jersey has No. 14, a number worn by all three of Niko’s boys in college and one worn by Jake and Zach in college. Colangelo coached all three of Niko’s boys.
“He was a staple of Prince William County sports and always had my back and now it’s time for me to have his,” Colangelo said. “He loved Prince William County sports and always favored Battlefield of course but still would support me. It was another tragic loss to our community.”