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All-Area Baseball: Kennedy, Carroll are armed and determined
OF YEAR DOMINATED
OF YEAR DOMINATED
BY STEVE FRANZELLO
They played for different high schools and for different coaches, and they never met on or off the baseball field.
But pitchers Damion Carroll of King George and Sean Kennedy of North Stafford will always share a bond as two of the most memorable players this area has ever produced.
Carroll, the Region I Player of the Year, went undefeated while leading the Foxes to their first state playoff appearance in 38 years. He won eight games and struck out 131 batters. He also belted seven home runs and hit .420.
Kennedy, the two-time Commonwealth District Player of the Year, capped a stellar career for the Wolverines with a 7–2 mark that included 100 strikeouts and a 0.68 ERA. His 26 career wins and 361 strikeouts are the best in school history.
- SPRING ALL AREA
All this week, The Free Lance–Star sports department unveils its picks for the spring All-Area high school teams.
Here is the schedule
Here is the schedule:
Wednesday: Track and field
Saturday: Girls soccer
Sunday: Boys soccer
Their success did not go unrecognized.
Carroll was voted the Group AA State Player of the Year and signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. Kennedy was chosen to the all-Northwest Region squad and will be taking his game to Virginia Tech next season.
Their impact is also being recognized by the Free Lance–Star, which has selected them as its All-Area co-baseball players of the year.
“He was electric, whether running the bases, coming up with the big hit or dominating on the mound,” said Carroll’s coach, Thad Reviello. “He made everyone play better. They knew when he was on the mound, the ball was in our corner.”
Kennedy had a similar effect for the Wolverines, who won 12 of their last 14 games before losing in the quarterfinals of the district tournament.
“He hates to lose and he made a lot of people around him better because of it,” said Kennedy’s coach, Jim Labrusciano. “I think he’s going to do that at Virginia Tech, too.”
As much as the two players were alike when it came to producing results, their methods for achieving them—and their paths to success—were distinctly different.
Kennedy was a baseball enthusiast from age 5. After moving from Alabama to Northern Virginia, he honed his skills in AAU ball and for travel teams like the Mid-Atlantic Mets and Canes.
Carroll was raised in rural King George County. Like Kennedy, he participated in AAU baseball, but opted to play American Legion rather than for showcase squads.
Under the tutelage of Labrusciano and mentors like former White Sox pitcher Larry Thomas, Kennedy transitioned from a position player to a versatile pitcher with a lively fastball and an effective changeup.
After starting as a freshman, he kept getting better, punching out 121 strikeouts last year and 100 more this season. His seven wins this year included two 15-strikeout performances and two one-hitters.
Labrusciano credits much of Kennedy’s success to his strong foundation and his work ethic. Kennedy hardly ever missed a weight training session or a practice.
“If you put everything into your offseason workouts, it will pay off at game time. It did for me,” said Kennedy, who got a call from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 37th round of this year’s draft before declining their bonus offer.
Carroll also realized the value of hard work, and his dedication took his game to another level as a senior.
“I just worked harder and got stronger,” Carroll said. “It’s all about work ethic. If you keep working at something, you can achieve whatever you want.”
Carroll enjoyed modest success as a sophomore, but things really began to click during his junior year. He struck out 94 and began turning heads with his 93-mph fast ball.
This season, he led the Foxes to the Battlefield District title and then fueled a run to the state quarterfinals, where they lost a 4–3 heartbreaker to eventual state champion Powhatan.
When Carroll took the mound against Washington & Lee in his first start this year, nearly 20 pro scouts showed up to watch. He fanned 16 in that game and followed that with two no-hitters, including a perfect game against Brooke Point.
“Everything happened really fast,” Carroll said. “At first the scouts were a distraction, but I got used to them. And then we just kept getting better. I’m going to miss my boys. We went through a lot together.”
Like Kennedy, who blasted a home run in a Northwest Region playoff game last year, Carroll also had a flair for the dramatic at the plate. Four of his home runs this year came in the playoffs.
“He has unbelievably quick hands,” Reviello said. “We batted him in the leadoff spot to keep him from trying to just hit home runs. But he hit seven anyway.”
With so many innings and important starts on the mound, Carroll and Kennedy had their own ways of preparing for the spotlight.
“Before a game, I’d listen to some music and visualize where I was going to throw the ball,” said Kennedy, who earned a black belt in karate when he was younger.
For Carroll, the mental preparation revolved around staying focused and relaxed before taking the mound.
“I always eat Subway [food] first, stay loose and then just try to stay focused when I’m out there,” Carroll said. “It’s always important to make a statement early.”
Carroll’s enthusiasm and outgoing personality affected his team and the King George fans, who finally had something to cheer about after years of watching the Foxes fight for respectability in the Battlefield District.
Kennedy exhibited similar leadership, but in a different way.
“He was a quiet leader who led by example,” Labrusciano said. “The big thing was his maturity. If I gave instructions, it was history. He got it done. He was that good.”
Both players were that good, especially this season.
“Everyone has always told me I have the talent to play college ball and beyond, but I didn’t really believe them until the last few years,” Kennedy said. “Now I’m ready to make the most of the chance.”
For Carroll, the past few months have been like a whirlwind, but they have only whetted his appetite for what the future may bring.
“I’ve always thrown and played hard, but I never really thought all of this would happen,” Carroll said. “It’s been a great experience, and now I’m ready to move on.”
Steve Franzello: 540/374-5440