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Blue Crabs’ Barton, Benjamin, Owens earned second-team selections as postseason All-Stars

By DALLAS COGLE

Staff writer

Despite a heartbreaking playoff conclusion to the 2012 campaign for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs — as it was unable to hang on to a one-run lead five outs away from winning the Liberty Division Championship Series on the road in a deciding Game 5 against eventual Atlantic League champion Long Island — there was still reason to celebrate after the season with four players earning individual accolades.

Southern Maryland native Daryl Thompson, a 2003 La Plata High School graduate and former major leaguer, was tabbed the league’s Pitcher of the Month for September after saving his best stuff for his hometown Blue Crabs during the most critical time of the season, playing a major role in the franchise securing its fourth straight postseason berth while coming close to advancing to the Atlantic League Championship Series.

Second baseman Casey Benjamin, left fielder Brian Barton and center fielder Jeremy Owens represented the Blue Crabs on the 2012 Postseason Atlantic League All-Star Team, each receiving second-team nods for their production in leading the Blue Crabs from a last-place record during the first half of the season to winning the division’s second-half title.

Drafted right out of high school and eventually playing in the majors for the Cincinnati Reds in 2008 and 2011, Thompson was signed by the Blue Crabs in late July.

After a bit of a rocky start to his Blue Crabs career, mostly due to not pitching for a couple months once he was released by the Minnesota Twins organization, Thompson settled down into stellar form by September and showcased why he was a coveted arm who broke into the majors on a couple of occasions.

In six outings the final month of the Blue Crabs season, he was lights-out with a 1.32 ERA in 27 1/3 innings, allowing just six runs — four of them earned — on 17 hits with 32 strikeouts and only eight walks.

Half of Thompson’s September outings were starts, going 1-1 with the one loss coming in a 2-0 outcome that saw him yield just one earned run.

He finished the season with a 2-2 mark and a lofty 2.93 ERA in 49 innings over 11 outings, seven of them starts, fanning 55 batters while walking only 16 and surrendering just 42 hits.

Thompson’s September victory was huge, as it clinched the second-half division title in what seemed like a long shot during the team’s woeful first half. Just as impressive was who Thompson beat in the playoff-clinching win, blanking the league’s best offense in Lancaster.

“Daryl, my hat’s off to that young man,” Blue Crabs manager Patrick Osborn said after Thompson’s Sept. 21 outing that saw him dominate Lancaster en route to putting the Blue Crabs into the postseason. “For him to [pitch like that] in front of his home crowd in this type of game after I moved him to the bullpen [last month], he was outstanding. He’s been outstanding for us. He has something that [batters] struggle with in this league — he has four pitches, three of them are very good. He has an out pitch with his curveball.

Osborn added, “I think it’s safe to say if we don’t have Daryl Thompson, we’re probably not in this position. He’s done a great job.”

By the postseason, Osborn had such confidence in Thompson that he started him in Game 5 of the divisional series.

“I have the utmost confidence in Daryl Thompson,” the Blue Crabs skipper said going into Game 5. “If there’s a better pitcher in the league right now, I’d like to see him.”

Though Thompson was not his lights-out self from previously in the month, his Game 5 performance was still solid with two earned runs and four hits allowed in 4 2/3 innings while most importantly propelling the Blue Crabs to a 3-2 lead over Long Island until their bullpen lost the lead — and game — in the eighth inning.

Second-team All-Stars

Benjamin’s versatility to effectively play just about any position on the field, in addition to the production of his dangerous bat, made him the Blue Crabs best all-around player in 2012.

Benjamin hit .267 during the season with 21 home runs and a team-best 85 RBIs, sixth best in the league. His production would have been even mightier for the Blue Crabs had he not been signed in May by the Mexican League to play for the Reynosa Broncos, where the money is more lucrative.

Returning a month later to the Blue Crabs, Benjamin was still selected to play in the league’s midsummer classic as an All-Star.

Clubhouse leader Owens, also the team’s hitting coach, is so highly regarded across the league that he was the leading vote-getter for the All-Star game in July. Owens’ bat really picked during the second half once he was moved to the everyday leadoff spot in the batting lineup. He shook off a slow start to finish with a team-best 22 homers — fifth best in the league — and 65 RBIs, second only to Benjamin on the Blue Crabs.

In center field, Owens was still revered as the best in the league in 2012 with his instincts and ability to track down most fly balls with his tremendous speed, showing no signs of losing a step despite being in his mid-30s.

Barton, a former major leaguer during the 2008 campaign with the St. Louis Cardinals, led the Blue Crabs with a .309 batting average — fifth best in the league — while going yard eight times and driving in 60 runs during the season.

Barton’s bat was particularly his claim to fame this year in clutch situations.

His speedy ways were also evident throughout the season, boasting a team-high 23 steals while matching Benjamin with a team-high six triples.

dcogle@somdnews.com