Friday's Walt Whitman-Northwest 4A West Region baseball final had a momentum swing so powerful in the top of the eighth inning that it swept the top-seeded Vikings right out of postseason play.
Northwest earned a dramatic 5-3 victory and will move on to play 4A North champion Sherwood in the state semifinals at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the University of Maryland's Shipley Field in College Park.
With one out and a runner at second base in top of the eighth and the score knotted at 3-3, Ryan Teachum grounded sharply to Whitman shortstop Pat Hisle, who instead of throwing to first for the sure out, threw out Joey Moeltner trying to reach third on the play.
The play looked to effectively end Northwest's scoring threat with Teachum at first and two out. Instead, Mike Shannon blasted a pitch from Vikings reliever Gabe Steinberg over the head of center fielder Drew Aherne to score Teachum and give Northwest a 4-3 lead. Shannon then scored on a single to left field from Max Banks, who was the game's winning pitcher.
“He threw a fastball right down the middle,” Shannon said. “I was just looking to get a base hit and I got a good hit on it. Our guy did a good job of running real fast [and scoring]. It was unbelievable. I wasn't really looking at it. I was just hoping our guy got home.”
Banks, who pitched three scoreless relief innings, started the bottom of the eighth inning by hitting Michael Flack (2 for 3, RBI) with a pitch. But Banks followed by inducing a flyball by Hisle before striking out Aherne and Ryan McGill to end the game.
“I kept him on first base a lot,” said Banks of Flack. “I was happy I kept him there. He didn't advance. I didn't give them a chance to score two runs that inning. Today, I had to pray. I had to turn to God for that one. I just sat down, I was like, 'I want it more for my team than I want it for myself.'”
“The last time we played [Whitman], it was a 2-1 game in nine innings, so I knew this was going to be a tough game,” Jaguars coach Todd Varesco said of his team's May 5 loss to the Vikings. “They're a great team. It came down to who got the opportune hit and we got two there at the end. I can't be more proud of these guys. It's been unbelievable, unbelievable.”
The contest started with offensive fireworks, as each team scored twice in the first inning. Northwest got a run-scoring groundout by Moeltner and an RBI single by Tony Cianci. The Vikings countered with a run-scoring double by McGill and an RBI single by Andrew Castagnetti.
The two teams traded single runs in the fifth inning as well. Banks reached on a walk, stole second and third and then scored on a single by Scott Ardoin. Flack drove in pinch runner Ben Castagnetti with two out in the bottom of the inning to tie the game.
“I was talking to Todd [Varesco] before the game and he said it's tough playing three games in three days or three games in four days, he said, `You need luck to win,'” said Whitman coach Joe Cassidy. “It's a bounce here, a ball that's fair here: It's a play like that [that wins the game] with two teams that are evenly matched. It doesn't take away the pain for the seniors. It just seemed like Lady Luck was in the visitor's dugout.”
On Tuesday, Northwest (15-6) will take on a Sherwood team that also played a closely contested region final. The Warriors (13-7) defeated third-seeded Westminster, 2-1, on Friday.
In other regional final action on Friday, top-seeded North Hagerstown defeated second-seeded Rockville, 8-3, to claim the 3A West Region title.
Trailing 5-0 early, the Rams (13-6-1) rallied for three runs in the third inning but three more runs by the Hubs (20-1-1) in the fifth inning put the game away in what was Rockville's first regional final appearance since 1993, according to Rams coach Farron Riggs.
“They scored three in the fifth and we couldn't really rebound from that,” Riggs said. “We had opportunities in the fourth, sixth and seventh. We had the bases loaded with one out in the seventh but two strikeouts shut us down.
“It was a really good season overall. I would have never guessed that we would be where we are losing the guys that we lost last year. It was a pretty good run that we made.”
Greg Brown (double), Sam Kane (2-for-4) and Marcus Hailstock (1-for-3) drove in Rockville's three runs.
Northwest 5, Walt Whitman 3
Northwest (15-6) 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 — 5 9 0
Whitman (17-3) 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 — 3 6 1
WP — Max Banks (5-1). LP — Gabe Steinberg (2-1). 2B: Northwest — Mike Shannon. Walt Whitman — Ryan McGill. RBI: Northwest — Scott Ardoin, Joey Moeltner, Tony Cianci, Mike Shannon, Max Banks. Walt Whitman — Michael Flack, Ryan McGill, Andrew Castagnetti.