Late-game heroics proved to be the difference in the Class 3A state baseball semifinals Tuesday evening at Joe Cannon Stadium in Anne Arundel County.
Third-ranked River Hill escaped Worchester County’s Stephen Decatur in the opening game of the semifinal doubleheader as senior Brady Young broke open up a 3-3 tie in the top of the seventh with a run-scoring triple that just cleared the glove of Seahawks right fielder Waylon Hobgood that was followed by an RBI single down the left field line by Riley Finkelton for a 5-3 victory.
“When I saw him reach up, my heart dropped,” said Young as Hobhood had earlier turned what looked to be an extra-base hit by the Hawks into a double play. “Then I saw it go over his head and as I was rounding first, I can’t explain the amount of joy going through my head. Just getting a break. I’ve been unlucky all season, but my teammates always got my back.”
No. 15 C. Milton Wright, turned a 5-3 deficit following a disastrous top of the fourth inning into a 6-5 victory against Huntingtown from Southern Maryland in the nightcap as the Mustangs rallied for three runs in the bottom of the inning on a single by winning pitcher Cole Williams, a ground out by Keith Cochran, and an error.
“That was a huge momentum (shift) because their fans, their bench, everything was going their way, but we strung a couple of hits together and that’s all we do,” said Williams, who closed out the final 3 ⅓ innings on the mound. “We were down 13-3 earlier in the season. We came right back. We knew exactly what situation we were in. We handled it very well.”
The two winners will face off Saturday night at 7 at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf for the state title. The Hawks (21-4 overall) will be seeking their first state crown since 2009 and the Mustangs (18-5) since 2010.
“I feel like we’ve been on borrowed time since that Bel Air game,” said C. Milton Wright coach Mike Amaral of his team’s early 14-13 postseason win against the Bobcats, rallying from 10 runs down. “We stared elimination right in the face and said, `Nope, not today.’ I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. That’s a tough team.”
Huntingtown struck first on what was essentially a swinging bunt by Dom Brooke with the bases loaded in the top of the first, but three other runners were stranded to leave the game at 1-0.
Mustangs starting pitcher Thomas Cannavale, who finished the contest behind the plate, helped erase that early deficit with a triple in the bottom of the inning to set up Ryan Niedzialkowski’s run-scoring infield single. Niedzialkowski then scored on an error on a grounder by Cam Powers for a 2-1 lead. That advantage grew to 3-1 in the second inning after a run-scoring double down the left-field line by Williams (2 for 4, run, two RBI).
Things turned in Huntingtown’s favor in the top of the fourth as Logan Hastings cleared the bases with a triple to deep center field for a 4-3 lead. Hastings then reached home on a steal attempt of second base by Cole Roschel. Roschel looked to be tagged out but the umpire ruled the ball came out on the tag, allowing Hastings to score during the confusion for a 5-3 lead.
After an out to start the inning, the Mustangs rallied for the final three runs of the game in the fourth as Tyler Adamo and Jon Hanifee laced back-to-back singles followed by Williams’s base hit to right field to break home Adamo. Hanifee scored on Cochran’s ground out, and Williams came home on an error at short.
“(The rally) definitely tremendously helped,” said Williams, who retired three straight batters following a walk to start the seventh. “It’s crazy. We didn’t know what team we would have had this season. There were a lot of question marks about who’s playing and who’s injured. We glued together very well and we’re very, very confident we can win states.”
In the earlier game, River Hill looked to start quickly, loading the bases with one out on two walls and a hit batsman, but Seahawks pitcher Lukas Loring fielded a weak ground ball and fired home for one out and then induced a ground ball to second base to end the threat.
It was a quick reversal of fortunes as Decatur produced a pair of runs on singles by Loring and Ryan McLaughlin in the bottom of the first for a 2-0 lead.
River Hill grabbed a run back on a double to left center field by Demetre Koutras to bring home Eje Okojie from first base in the third. Okojie then tied the contest in the fifth inning on a double steal with courtesy runner Jonathan Bloom, which eventually resulted in an errant throw home to allow Okojie to score. The speedy left fielder led off the inning with a triple to center field.
Ryan Walsh then gave the Hawks their first lead at 3-2 lead in the sixth on a groundout to first with runners on second and third.
Seahawks catcher Ryder Swanson came right back with a run-scoring single to left field in the sixth to knot the score at 3-3. Colon Chan halted that Decatur rally, however, working the final two outs on two pitches that resulted in two flyouts with runners on the corners.
“Man on first and third, I was very stressed, but I had (confidence) in my defense,” Chan said. “Two popups for us, that was huge.”
Chan closed out the contest with two more flyouts and a base running error on Gus Croll, who rounded second on what appeared to be a base hit to the outfield by McLaughlin, but the ball was caught and as he rushed back to first base, he missed the second base bag.
For the second consecutive year, the 3A title match will be an all-Baltimore area affair, down in Southern Maryland. Last year, Chesapeake-Anne Arundel defeated Towson.
“This is huge; the past three years, we’ve had a team that could have states every year, but as a senior year for me personally, this is huge,” Chan said. “This is probably one of the best moments of my life.”
CLASS 3A STATE SEMIFINALS
at Joe Cannon Stadium
NO. 3 RIVER HILL 5, STEPHEN DECATUR 3
River Hill 0 0 1 0 1 1 2 - 5 6 1
Stephen Decatur 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 - 3 7 0
WP - Colin Chan; LP - Nate Berzonki.
2B: River Hill - Demtere Koutras, Riley Finkeston
3B: River Hill - Eje Okojie, Brady Young
RBI: River Hill - Demetre Koutras, Ryan Walsh, Brady Young, Riley Finkelston. Decatur - Lukas Loring, Ryan McLaughlin, Ryan Swanson
NO. 15 C. MILTON WRIGHT 6, HUNTINGTOWN 5
Huntingtown 1 0 0 4 0 0 0 - 5 7 4
C. Milton Wright 2 1 0 3 0 0 x - 6 11 0
WP - Cole Williams (4-3); LP - Cole Roschel (2-1)
3B: C. Milton Wright - Thomas Cannavale
RBI: Huntingtown - Logan Hastings 3, Dom Brooke. C. Milton Wright - Cole Williams 2, Ryan Niedzialkowski, Keith Cochran