With a spot in the Region 3B semifinals on the line over Memorial Day weekend, Culpeper head coach Brandon Mack handed the ball to his star player to finish the final two innings.
Six outs later, the Blue Devils had knocked off defending Class 3 state champion Spotsylvania 5-3 on the road.
As he screamed and pumped his fist, Jake Dudley was swarmed by his teammates near the mound.
“People got a glimpse of what he can actually be,” Mack said of Dudley, who collected a double, a triple and two RBIs in addition to earning the save against Spotsylvania with four strikeouts. “Tonight proved why he’s one of the best players in our region—maybe even in the state.”
The fire and emotion that was on display after that game played a huge role in what was a very accomplished baseball career for Dudley at Culpeper. As a four-year letterman, he not only left his mark as a pitcher, but helped anchor the Blue Devils’ lineup as one of the most feared hitters in the area.
Though Culpeper’s season ultimately came to an end with a 4-3 loss to Warren County in the regional semifinals last Tuesday, Dudley was a major reason why the Blue Devils—who began the year with setbacks in nine of their first 10 games—came within one win of a berth in the Class 3 state tournament. Playing mostly third base, he batted .431 with a 1.344 OPS, seven doubles, two triples, five home runs and 17 RBIs during his senior campaign.
“At the plate, nobody wants any part of him,” Mack declared.
Like many players, Dudley’s passion for the game was developed from a young age. He started playing when he was just four years old. He eventually played on a travel team that was coached by his dad when he was eight, and his love affair with baseball took off from there.
Dudley said the support he’s received from his parents over the years has been a vital piece to his success.
“Words can’t even explain what their dedication has meant to me,” Dudley said. “All of the early mornings they’ve had with me playing summer ball and going to showcases... We’re talking waking up at 3 o’clock in the morning sometimes. What they’ve done for me means a lot.”
When Dudley first walked through the doors of Culpeper High School in 2015, then-Blue Devils head coach Billy Mitchell saw right away that he had something special.
“The thing that impressed me about Jake as a freshman was his poise and his ability to play multiple positions,” Mitchell said. “He fit in well with the upperclassmen and definitely proved he belonged. Opposing coaches would tell me how they tried to pitch around him, which is rare for a freshman playing varsity. The main thing I remember is that he had a good sense of humor and he wasn’t intimidated by the competition. He has a level of self-confidence that has served him well.”
Because of that self-confidence, Dudley has never been one to shy away from pressure-packed situations. To Mitchell’s point, that moxie was on full display even as a freshman, when he tossed a complete game against Riverside in a 6-4 playoff win on the road.
“I’ll never forget that game as long as I live,” Mitchell remarked when asked about his favorite moment involving Dudley.
Dudley says his air of confidence comes from two players in which he tries to model his game after.
“We don’t play the same position, but Mike Trout is absolutely one guy I look up to,” he said. “Being a third baseman though, I really love watching Manny Machado play the position.
As for his play, Dudley has earned his fair share of accolades over the past few years. He garnered first-team All-Region 3B honors at third base in both 2018 and 2019 and was an all-district or all-conference selection in each of his four high school seasons. A preseason All-American by Perfect Game in 2018 and 2019, he’s also been named to the all-tournament teams for their WWBA World Championships in Florida and Super 25 Qualifier in Richmond.
Those accolades helped Dudley gain interest from in-state colleges such as James Madison, VMI and Radford, but he suffered a back injury at the end of his junior season that cooled off their pursuit of him. After that, he began to have discussions with former high school teammate and current Harford Community College (MD) player Zach Smith about potentially taking the junior college route to the next level.
“He basically told me to come to Harford,” Dudley said when recalling his conversations with Smith. “Zach said, ‘Play here for a year, perform and see where you can go after that.’”
Dudley visited Harford’s campus after that and the rest was history. He credited the facilities and coaching staff for making it feel like the right place to call home.
While the tools are there for Dudley to succeed at the next level, he acknowledges there are certain facets of the game he needs to focus on.
“My defense needs a lot of work,” he said. “I also need to improve my speed. If I want to get drafted, I have to get faster.”
However, the possibility of one day playing at the highest level wouldn’t exist without the former teammates and coaches who have molded Dudley.
“Coach Mitchell didn’t have to take a chance on me as a freshman on the varsity, but he did,” Dudley remarked. “He believed in me and I played a lot my freshman year as a result. That made me humble. Then Coach Mack stepped in and spent a lot of time the past two years staying after practice and working on extra reps with me. That means a lot.”
Mack said that nobody has higher expectations for Dudley than he does for himself.
“It’s a grind every day with [Jake],” Mack said. “He works hard and sometimes he may get frustrated, but it’s mostly with himself because he knows how good he can be if he pushes himself. He’s a good kid.”