Titans Baseball Preview: Titans Look to Build off Breakthrough Season with both Fresh and Familiar Faces


Courtesy of Dylan Weber

CNU commit Dylan Weber leads the Titans as they begin their quest for the district title March 12 at James Wood.

The Dominion High School Baseball team had a solid season last year, finishing with a record of 15-7, a season that ended in the second round of the district tournament against Riverside. Some of the key faces on the team have returned, but others have left and have been replaced with new faces. They’ll travel to James Wood High School on March 12th on opening day, begging the obvious question. Is this team better than last year’s?

The Pitching Staff
The Titan’s ace Dylan Weber is back. After committing to CNU, the southpaw looks to build upon his best season, one in which he went 4-0 with a sparkling .63 ERA. You didn’t read that incorrectly, he had an ERA under one while leading the team in innings with 44.1

One of those starts was a no-hitter against Loudoun County in which he struck out 13. For the season, Weber led the team with 65 punchouts as batters hit a mere .181 against him for the year.

Weber wants to make it especially clear that he has not peaked yet. “All fall and winter I worked out every day to gain strength and mobility. I was on a throwing program to build up arm strength and keep myself healthy,” Weber said. “Recently I have been seeing an increase in my velocity as we have been approaching the season.”

Weber isn’t the only strong pitcher on the roster, as their staff will also have the big righty Mario Canestraro. While his innings were low, at just 22, that was due to an arm injury that kept him out. When he did pitch, Canestraro was extremely effective, with a 2.86 ERA. His opponents hit just .228 off him and with a full season, the junior has the potential to be even better.

The rest of the staff is filled with some unproven names like Eric Gustafson. Gustafson pitched just 11.2 innings last year, all in relief, but those innings were spectacular as he had a .60 ERA. However, there are numerous players who could make an impact, as Cortland Lawson, Declan McCann, J.T. Turner, Joe Simonetta, Xavier Ruley, and Jackson Hickey will all see time on the mound according to Dominion head coach Jeff Berg.

“Deepest pitching staff, on varsity, we have had in a while. I am proud of the offseason and the work our pitching staff has been able to get in,” head coach Jeff Berg said. “They worked really hard to prepare both physically and mentally. Successful baseball teams revolve around pitching and defense, two of our strengths this season.”

Even though some teams choose to operate with a de-facto closer, Berg prefers to stay more flexible. “We don’t operate with a ‘closer’ per se. The situation, opponent, and inning will dictate who goes in and how we handle that game situation,” he said.

Other than that, there are some intriguing new names. Joe Simonetta had almost no team with the varsity team last year with just .2 of an inning pitched, but the tall and lanky junior has some of the arm talent to be a hard-throwing reliever out of the pen.

The Lineup
Last year, Dominion struggled to hit as a team, finishing with a .252 average as a team. No matter how good a team’s pitching staff is, they still need a strong set of batters to complement it, and that’s where this year’s Dominion team could separate itself. They did lose two of their best hitters in Ryan Bowman and Mitchell Kay, who hit .333 and .314 respectively.

That loss has however been offset by the addition of phenom senior shortstop Cortland Lawson, a transfer from Paul VI High School. Lawson was named at the 7th highest rated prospect in the entire state, as he hit .301 last year with a .427 on base percentage, according to Nova Baseball Magazine, with PVI and is currently committed to the University of Tennessee.

“My coaches and teammates welcomed me with open arms and accepted me into their family. I feel like I can really help the team this year,” Lawson said. “I always have high expectations for myself but the main one is to do everyone I can so that my team can win. Nothing is more satisfying.”

Berg echoed a similar sentiment. “We look forward to Cortland contributing positively on the field and off it. He has been great to be around and coach,” Berg said. “It has been easy for our guys to have welcomed him into our baseball family. The coaches want nothing more than a great senior season for Cortland Lawson.”

Lawson’s insertion into the lineup means that junior Matthew Turk will move to third base. Turk hit a scorching .328 last year. On the other side of the infield, the picture is a little less clear, but there seems to be one main candidate.

Freshman Blain Simonich has been highly touted and his presence on the varsity squad could foretell even bigger things for the second baseman. Many have expected him to start, but Berg remained coy on the subject. “You have to keep in mind he has not played an inning of varsity baseball yet so he has that learning curve to overcome,” he said. “I have no doubt he will contribute positively to our program this year, he already has each day at practice so far. Blain is a talented young man, but again, he is one of those guys that we have in our program that is not just a good player but good person also.”

While the lineup has yet to be released, here’s my guess as to what the lineup will look like. Canestraro will play first base when he doesn’t pitch. Nick Barenz will take over from Kyle Quattrain behind the plate, and the outfield situation will probably have senior Cole Hepler in left, junior Xavier Ruley in center, and sophomore Declan McCann or Gustafson in right, depending on who’s pitching.

This is a young team, but one with experience. Juniors like Canestraro, Turk, and Ruley should step into larger roles after getting their feet underneath them on the varsity squad.

Weber expects big things from his team. “We are going to be very strong defensively. Our bats are going to wake up soon and when they do we are going to be a tough team to beat,” he said. “A lot of the guys have high expectations of going far in playoffs and I believe we can do it.”

The hard work they’ve put in made Berg ready for the season. “We are excited about the guys we have in our program, the preparation they have put in this offseason, the coaches we have, and the schedule we are looking forward to playing,” he said. “Coming off a year like we had last season energizes our guys but they know our preparation is no different. The guys we have coming back have played a lot of Varsity baseball and understand what it will take to have a successful season.”

Their season will largely depend on consistency in their hitting. They started fast last year, with a 13-2 start, but faltered down the stretch, going 2-5 with a four-game losing streak that ended with a loss to Riverside. That matchup proved to be a hurdle for the Titans, as they went 0-3 against the Rams.

However, due to their exceptional pitching and the potential of their lineup, the Titans should be expected to match and improve upon their play from the last year and challenge for the crown in what should be a talented Dulles District.

*All statistics provided are unofficial. Official statistics were not available from the team.