It was another banner year for Archbishop Spalding during the 2023 high school baseball season. The Cavaliers again reigned as the best in the Baltimore region, winning a second straight MIAA A Conference championship.
And, again, Parker Thomas was the indomitable force for the No. 1 Cavaliers. The senior is The 2023 Baltimore Banner/Varsity Sports Network Pitcher of the Year.
After a decade-plus wait, River Hill ended its title drought in the spring. The Howard County school won the Class 3A state championship.
Henry Zatkowski was the catalyst for the Clarksville school’s first baseball title since 2009. The junior is The 2023 Baltimore Banner/Varsity Sports Network Player of the Year.
Craig Estrin guided the Hawks to a sizzling close, capped with the 3A championship. The second-year skipper is The 2023 Baltimore Banner/Varsity Sports Network Coach of the Year.
Here are the stories of all three award winners.
As he did in 2022, Parker Thomas was the undefeated ace for top-ranked Archbishop Spalding. The senior is The 2023 Baltimore Banner/Varsity Sports Network Baseball Pitcher of the Year.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-hander went 9-0 with an 0.70 ERA and 89 strikeouts over 59.2 innings for the No. 1 Cavaliers, who repeated as MIAA A Conference champions. Last year, he was 8-0, garnering VSN’s Pitcher of the Year honors.
Parker’s last two seasons are remarkable considering the MIAA A, by most observers, is the most competitive league in the Baltimore area. He was also named Max Preps’ Maryland Player of the Year.
Senior catcher Ethan McNally, who will play at James Madison University next season, caught Thomas the last three seasons.
“Parker was phenomenal, lights out over the last two years,” McNally said.
“I lost my final game as a sophomore to Gilman in the A Conference final and it didn’t feel good,” said Thomas, who capped his career with a masterful two-hit 2-0 victory over Calvert Hall in the clinching game of MIAA A double-elimination championship tournament at Joe Cannon Stadium. “I never wanted to lose another after that game (Gilman) and it worked out.”
Spalding didn’t lose a game in the double elimination tournament as Thomas won twice, the first against John Carroll which he held to a run through six innings before tiring in the seventh.
“We lost because Parker pitched a gem,” said John Carroll coach Darrion Siler.
Thomas’ 23-2 career mark is only topped only in wins by former Cavalier standout Tyler Blohm, who posted a 25-4 mark. Blohm was VSN’s Pitcher of the Year in 2016 and pitched for the University of Maryland.
Thomas will pitch for East Carolina next spring.
“Parker was the best pitcher in the state of Maryland,” Spalding coach Joe Palumbo proudly proclaimed during the regular season. “He always did what your ace is supposed to do -- step up in the big games.”
Scores of high school baseball players graduate each year having never experienced the ultimate thrill of winning a state championship.
Henry Zatkowski got that rare experience, leading River Hill to the Class 3A crown last month. The junior is the 2023 Baltimore Banner/Varsity Sports Network Baseball Player of the Year.
Zatkowski was a highly productive two-way player for the No. 2 Hawks. And he saved the best for the state championship game at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf.
He was nearly flawless in a 1-0 decision over C. Milton Wright, allowing a hit and fanning 15. Zatkowski weathered a somewhat nerve racking final inning.
Zatkowski plucked the leadoff batter in the bottom of the seventh. While he posted two outs, C. Milton Wright had runners at second and third, dialing up the pressure on Zatkowski.
“With the tying run on third and two outs, one out away from the state championship, my heart was pounding,” said Zatkowski, coming off a sophomore season in which he was 6-1 with an 0.65 ERA and named the Howard County Pitcher of the Year. “I struck out the last batter to end it and my teammates dog piled… I tripped and fell and ended up on the bottom of the pile. It was great, we did it.”
The state final symbolized his sensational season. The 6-foot-2, 190 pound Zatkowski finished with an 8-1 record (only loss to Howard County champion Glenelg) along with an 0.89 ERA (only 8 earned runs) in 63.1 innings and 131 strikeouts against only 10 walks and just 26 hits yielded. He didn’t allow an earned run in the postseason (3-0), striking 41 and walking only two in 19.1 innings.
Zatkowski had a tremendous connection with battery mate Anderson Dang.
“Henry had great control and location. We thought together and when he had something working, we stayed with it,” said Dang, a sophomore. “We agreed most of the time on the pitches used. Henry was great to work with because he was the same way off the field that he was on it. He was a team leader.”
“He pitched on a different level and I might add that his offense is very underrated,” said River Hill coach Craig Estrin. “He was the No. 3 batter on a state championship team delivering huge hits and RBIs consistently.”
With the bat, Zatkowski hit a robust .486 with 31 RBI along with a .585 on-base percentage. Packed in with his 36 singles were 10 doubles, two triples, and Zatkowski also stole seven bases.
Zatkowski is verbally committed to Duke University, which reached the NCAA Division I Super Regionals. An impressive student, Zatkowski has a weighted 4.21 grade point average.
“Henry has a bright future,” said Estrin.
River Hill baseball coach Craig Estrin said he “would pay” the high school to coach. The Howard County school has gotten its money’s-worth with Estrin, the 2023 Baltimore Banner/Varsity Sports Network Baseball Coach of the Year.
In his second season, Estrin led the Hawks to the Class 3A state championship this spring. River Hill’s 1-0 victory over C. Milton Wright in the title match at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf last month clinched the Clarksville school’s first title since claiming the 2A crown in 2009.
Last year, River Hill lost a bitter 4-3, 12 inning decision to Reservoir in the Class 3A East Region 2 final. Estrin used the loss to the Hawks’ Howard County rival as motivation this spring, especially after his team claimed its first Howard County championship last spring.
“Coach didn’t let up on how good we were and how good we could be as we went along,” said Hawks junior pitcher Henry Zatkowski. “He told us that we were one of the best teams in the state. And we didn’t want to go through again what had happened last year.”
After a 8-7 loss to eventual HoCo league champ and then-reigning 2A state champ Glenelg, River Hill won 16 of its final 17 decisions. The Hawks started the postseason with back-to-back shutout decisions over Atholton (6-0) and Reservoir (7-0) before besting Washington County’s North Hagerstown (6-1) in the state quarterfinals.
In its first state semifinal since the 2009 title run, River Hill defeated Worcester County’s Stephen Decatur, setting up an all-Baltimore area final with C. Milton Wright. In a scoreless deadlock in the fifth and a runner at third, Estrin called for a suicide squeeze.
Colin Chan laid a perfect bunt between the pitcher’s mound and first base line, and Riley Finkleston slid across home plate with the game’s only run. Zatkowski pitched a masterful one-hitter with 15 strikeouts.
“We had not used the suicide squeeze all season, but it got us the winning run in the championship game,” said Estrin, smiling from ear to ear.
Estrin has created a winning atmosphere with an emphasis on believing in yourself and having fun.
“Coach was laid back and it fueled our fire,” said River Hill first basemen Demetre Koudras. “We set standards and had a lot of confidence, not to mention a lot of fun.”
“Every team’s goal is to win the states and you have to be a little lucky,” said Estrin, whose team placed No. 2 in the final Baltimore Banner/VSN Baseball Top 15 poll. “We set our expectations high this year and that loss to Reservoir last season fueled the fire for us.”
Estrin, whose son Brandon was an assistant this spring and played on the 2009 Hawks’ 2A state title squad, spent five seasons as the junior varsity coach before taking the varsity reigns in 2022. In two seasons, Estrin is 38-8.