For the first time in three decades, the McDonogh School baseball team hoisted a league championship trophy.
Devin Pal is a significant reason why. A year after losing his only playoff his only start in a disappointing and abbreviated postseason, Pal completed a masterful redemption tour with a complete-game five-hitter leading the Eagles to a 2-0 victory over Gerstell Academy in the MIAA B Conference Tournament championship game Monday at Joe Cannon Stadium in Anne Arundel County.
Billy Moore and senior catcher Dylan Liedy each had an RBI for the Eagles (18-9 overall), who defeated top-seed Gerstell back-to-back days to claim their first MIAA baseball championship. The Owings Mills school’s previous title was in 1992 when Kenny Cloude pitched the Eagles to the MSA (Maryland Scholastic Association) A crown.
Cloude, who was All-Metro Player of the Year in 1992 and 1993, pitched two seasons in the majors for the Seattle Mariners.
Pal, a lanky 6-foot-3 right=hander, did not allow an earned run in three complete game efforts this postseason.
“Phenomenal. He just went three playoff starts, 21 innings, no earned runs,” McDonogh coach Matt Tuneski said. “Just super proud of him, the way he kind of fought back. Last year, he lost in our playoff game as a junior. To come back as a senior, to keep throwing strike after strike, and trusting our guys.
“Just proud of the team overall. We really struggled two years ago when these guys were sophomores in the A (conference), so to kinda of see them work through it and finish like this, that’s what it’s all about.”
Pal scattered the five hits over his seven innings of work and was only once seriously threatened. That came in the top of the seventh as a single by Jack Bruffey, an error at third base, and a wild pitch put runners on second and third with two out, but Pal was able to induce a sharply hit ground ball by Falcons senior catcher Aaron Hammond to Eagles first baseman Leo Anterpen, Sunday’s winner on the mound, to clinch the victory.
“I’m just glad (his senior year) ended this way, with a championship,” Pal said. “I didn’t pitch my best last year. We were pretty good, but we choked in the playoffs, 0-2, against two teams we knew we could beat. We didn’t want to repeat that again this year.”
Moore, just like he did in Sunday’s 5-1 McDonogh win, staked McDonogh to an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a double to deep left-center field that scored courtesy runner James Pitts from first base.
“I just wanted to put the ball in play, do a job for the team knowing a guy’s on first base,” Moore said. “Just try to hit the ball as hard as I can. I got a ball in my sweet spot, and I let it rip. We all did a job at the end of the season and didn’t let those (early losses to Gerstell this season) get to us, and we knew we were going to win.
“It’s been, I think, 30 years now. It’s kind of an unreal feeling. It means so much to us and the community to win and be a part of this champion team.”
The Eagles looked to add to that lead in the fourth with two on and two down, but Gerstell starting pitching Travis Smith worked a strikeout of Austin McNair to end the threat. One inning later, McDonogh did break through for a run, largely on an unconventional pitching change by Gerstell Academy coach Cap Poklemba, who took out Smith in the inning only to reinsert him after a pair of walks, issued by reliever Dylan Nee, loaded the bases.
Smith tamped down what could have been a larger rally, but Liedy turned a 3-ball, 2-strike pitch into a run-scoring single up the middle for the final 2-0 Eagles advantage. Peter Koknis was thrown out at the plate from center field on Liedy’s single on a well-thrown ball by Nee, and Smith struck out Moore looking to end the inning.
Poklemba, who played football and baseball at McDonogh, said he decided to lift Smith as he was about to face the Eagles lineup for the third time in the game, and “Dylan came in for us last night and threw really well, kind of shut them down. I thought it might be time to do it. It didn’t work out for us; Dylan couldn’t find the zone, so we went back to Travis, and Travis was able to get us out of it with minimal damage.”
Gerstell’s Gavin Larson singled to start the sixth, but he was doubled up on a line drive to second to keep the McDonogh momentum going and stymie any type of rally by the Falcons, who swept the two regular-season meetings between the clubs.
The double play was one of several excellent defensive stops by the Eagles, including numerous running catches by outfielders Santino Sanchez, McNair, and Kokinis.
“Today, we just hit missiles at guys,” Poklemba said. “We hit the ball hard . . . a lot of line drives right at guys. We kept saying, `Waiting for it to break through. Waiting for it to break through.’ Finally started to in that last inning. My senior (Hammond) comes up with second and third and two outs and hits an absolute rocket at the first baseman. That’s baseball.
“Nineteen and four (record) is the best season in school history by far, and these seniors have led us all the way. I told them, `We didn’t reach our ultimate goal, but this is something you’ll never forget and the school will never forget.’ Just an incredible run.”
MIAA B CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP
at Joe Cannon Stadium
MCDONOGH 2, GERSTELL 0
Gerstell 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 0 5 0
McDonogh 1 0 0 0 1 0 x - 2 4 1
WP - Devin Pal; LP - Travis Smith
2B: McDonogh - Billy Moore.
RBI: McDonogh - Billy Moore, Dylan Liedy.