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In their final regular season contest, the La Plata Warriors clinched the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference title with a 1-0 blanking of the visiting Northern Patriots last Friday.
Now La Plata (14-5 overall) turns its focus towards attaining another banner this year with the baseball postseason getting underway today.
La Plata enters the SMAC-heavy Class 3A South Region playoffs as the top seed in the bracket as it guns for a second-straight crown among the postseason field. Last year’s regional title catapulted La Plata to a near state championship, settling for a Maryland runner-up finish after sustaining a heartbreaking 5-2 loss in eight innings in the final to J.M. Bennett of Wicomico County.
“We have so many new faces that last season's loss [in the state final] doesn't come up a lot,” La Plata first-year head coach John Childers said. “At the beginning of the season, the returning kids did mention coming so close to a state title as a source of motivation to work harder. The strength of this team is its competitive nature. They just hate losing and the thought of losing motivates them.”
Despite homefield advantage throughout regionals, returning to the state playoffs promises to be no easy endeavor for La Plata, which gets a first-round bye and will face Prince George’s County’s Crossland, the No. 8 seed, or Potomac, the No. 9 seed, in the quarterfinal round at 4 p.m. Monday.
In the regional semifinals, La Plata, with a win, would meet either randomly fifth-seeded Thomas Stone (5-15) or Chopticon (12-7), which earned the No. 4 seed. The Stone-Chopticon quarterfinal contest is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Monday.
La Plata was beaten by both clubs this season, though it won the season series with rival Stone by claiming the other two contests.
“If we throw strikes, make routine plays and put the ball in play hard consistently, we can compete with anyone,” Childers said. “There are several other excellent, well-coached teams in the region, so we'll play hard and play together and see how things work out.”
Chopticon handled La Plata by a 7-1 outcome on April 11 while also downing its quarterfinals opponent in Stone, 14-5, during the regular season.
Chopticon was among a four-way tie for the fourth-best SMAC record at 8-4, behind La Plata’s 10-2 tiebreaking league-best mark.
“Our team finished 12-5 overall and 8-4 in SMAC, which is quite an accomplishment considering I was hoping we would just finish .500 this year,” said Chopticon head coach Ricky Ryce, whose club has been predicated around quality pitching with yielding three runs or less in a game nine times. “So with that said, I am confident in our ability to make a run in the regionals and hopefully to the state [title]. The only question I have is the inexperience of this team due to the fact we are fairly young.”
In the lower half of the 3A South bracket are Calvert County powers Huntingtown (15-5), seeded No. 2, and Northern (12-7), randomly seeded seventh. After each received first-round byes, they will clash in an intriguing postseason showdown of rivals in Monday’s quarterfinals. Huntingtown, as the better seed, has hosting rights. That contest is scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday.
Huntingtown, which has boasted the regional title in 2006, 2007 and 2010, defeated Northern on April 16, 11-2.
The good news for Chopticon is it has beaten each of the 3A South contenders in La Plata, Huntingtown and Northern. The bad news is Chopticon has also lost to Huntingtown and Northern, and trying to beat La Plata for a second time this year on the road — should that semifinals matchup take place — will be no easy task.
“It doesn't matter who we play because we know to advance we must beat these good teams,” Ryce said. “The good thing is we have already played these teams and we have beaten all of them so it helps the mindset of my players to know we can advance.”
With a 15-4 mark during the regular season, no Calvert County team owned a better overall record than the Patuxent Panthers.
They are seeded third in the 2A South Region as the favorite in the bracket. In its lower half of the bracket, Patuxent is highly expected to advance to the regional final with SMAC foes Calvert and McDonough being their biggest obstacles.
Patuxent swept both clubs by a dominating 33-1 combined tally in four games.
The top two seeds in the region are owned by Prince George’s Gwynn Park and Frederick Douglass, respectively, which hail from a county not known for its baseball greatness. Fourth-seeded Glenelg of Howard County may be Patuxent’s biggest test in the region.
“We have to hit. Pitching's been good all year and defense has been good, we just have to hit,” Patuxent head coach Keith Powell said of his team that boasts nine shutouts this year. “Two of our losses have been 2-1 [to Chopticon] and 1-0 [to North Point]. [They were] very winnable games but we just didn't score the runs we needed to. If we hit, we're a very good team.”
Patuxent will host either 11th-seeded Calvert or sixth-seeded Central of Prince George’s County in the quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Monday. Lackey, the seventh seed, hosts 10th-seeded McDonough at 4 p.m. today with the winner traveling to Douglass on Monday for the quarterfinals.
In the 4A East Region, SMAC runner-up North Point earned the No. 2 seed while boasting the best overall record at 17-3 in the league.
The Eagles finished a tiebreaker short of winning the SMAC title, losing to La Plata in the clubs’ conference affair, 6-0. North Point beat La Plata 5-0 in a nonconference contest in March.
North Point is looking to avenge a premature exit from last year’s regional playoffs, losing at home in the semifinal round.
The Eagles will host either 10th-seeded Chesapeake or seventh-seeded North County, both of Anne Arundel County, in the quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Monday.
Meade of Anne Arundel, the 12th seed, will be at fifth-seeded Great Mills for a first-round contest today, while 11th-seeded Leonardtown travels to sixth-seeded Glen Burnie of Anne Arundel in the first round.
Staff writer Michael Reid contributed to this story.