- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
HANOVER — Many years from now, the La Plata Warriors and their fans will still be talking about Tuesday’s memorable 5-4 walk-off victory via an exhilarating comeback over the Stephen Decatur Seahawks from Worcester County in the Class 3A state baseball semifinals at Joe Cannon Stadium in Anne Arundel County.
The improbable win propels La Plata to its second state championship game in three years at 7 p.m. Saturday at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, facing Bel Air of Harford County.
Determined to avoid playoff elimination for the second straight year in the state semifinals, La Plata rallied from a 4-0 hole with three runs in the fifth inning and then completed its late-game heroics by dramatically plating the tying and winning runs with aggressive, opportunistic base running while down to its final out in the bottom of the seventh.
“That was the craziest game I’ve played in my life,” said La Plata cleanup hitter Jimmy Monaghan, who continued to dazzle this postseason as a sophomore with a clutch, two-out single to right-center field in the fifth that drove in a pair of runs to bring the Warriors within 4-3.
Monaghan was intentionally walked with one out in the seventh, while Colin Stine, who led off the frame with a double on a one-ball-two-strike count, was at third to set the stage for La Plata’s comeback magic.
“I’ve never seen so much energy in all our team in that last inning, and I’ve got to thank our fans so much. They were so loud,” a still-stunned Monaghan added after he and his teammates converged in a raucous victory pile while their fans basked in jubilation when the winning run slid across the plate. “That was the funnest game ever, and I wouldn’t want to be anyone else.
“That was the best moment of my life.”
La Plata winning pitcher Alex Calvert tossed the final four innings in solid relief with one run allowed on three hits but popped out in the infield in the seventh with one away and runners at the corners, seemingly the vital out Decatur needed to escape the jam. But La Plata refused to surrender down to its final out.
“My adrenaline is still high right now, it’s just ridiculous,” Calvert said. “I still don’t feel like we won. It’s going to hit me sometime soon, but my adrenaline is so high that I just can’t think about anything. Going down 4-0 and coming back, it’s just awesome.”
Stine slid head-first across the plate on a two-out wild pitch in the seventh to tie the game at 4 for La Plata. On the play that drew a throw from Decatur catcher Zach Adams to starting pitcher Grant Donahue covering the plate, La Plata pinch-runner Simeon Spruill went from first to third when the ball squirted away as Stine slid home.
Spruill, running for Monaghan, hustled home for third with the winning run on a planned base-running play called by La Plata head coach John Childers.
Labeled the “Pickle Play” by the team, Childers called for La Plata base runner Troy Konzen, who drew a two-out walk after the tying wild pitch, to force a throw to first that would get him a rundown with the notion that Spruill would hustle home from third to end the game in the walk-off — rather, run-off — fashion before Konzen would get tagged out.
The “Pickle Play” worked to perfection even though Decatur first baseman Jacob Hickman only briefly headed Konzen’s way before throwing home as Spruill was barreling toward the plate.
A quality throw would have probably nailed the hustling Spruill. But Hickman’s off-balance throw was thrown into the dirt and bounced away from Adams as Spruill approached, sliding across the plate with the game-winning run that has La Plata one victory away from its second state title since 2008.
“The ‘Pickle Play,’ I save it for the right situation. I don’t do it early in the game usually,” Childers said. “[My mind] was just blank [as we scored the winning run]. It was just all happening so fast. It’s unbelievable. We were down, 4-0, to a good team with a pitcher that’s dealing like that.
“For the first five innings, [Decatur’s defense] catches everything that’s near them. At that point [in the fifth], I’m trying to convince [my players] that we could still come back and win this game. And they never quit, to their credit.”
About winning the game in the seventh with small-ball, base-running tactics instead of La Plata’s usual long-ball weaponry, Childers half-jokingly added, “I feel a little dirty doing it. I like to let them swing the bats, but that was a situation where you put a little pressure [on Decatur’s defense with our base running] and maybe they make a mistake.”
A couple of breath-taking plays in the field is what enabled Decatur to be in command of the game through 4 1/2 innings with a 4-0 lead.
After Decatur scored a run in the first, La Plata would have responded with a tally of its own if not for Monaghan’s belted grounder down the first-base line being snagged on a big hop by a diving Hickman, who then got to his feet and hustled to the bag for the inning-ending out that kept Zach Snell stranded at third following a two-out triple and took away an extra-base hit from Monaghan.
In the third with one down and a runner on first, La Plata’s Denzel Johnson cranked a deep fly ball to right-center field that would have exited most high school parks. But Decatur center fielder Dallas Harrington robbed Johnson with a tremendous over-the-shoulder catch while on a dead sprint. La Plata never scored in the frame, despite a couple of singles, due to Harrington’s defensive gem.
But the defense that kept Decatur ahead for much of the game let the team down late, committing two errors amid three straight breakdowns in the sixth before the seventh-inning wild pitch and errant throw to the plate that enabled La Plata to tie and win the game.
“It’s pretty tough,” Decatur head coach Rich Ferro said, gracious amid a bitter defeat afterward. “We’ve won a lot of close games that could’ve gone the other way, so today we were on the other end. [Our first baseman] was moving toward second base [on La Plata’s ‘Pickle Play’], it was a tough throw [home]. He should’ve just held it and run [toward home for the throw].”
La Plata 5, Stephen Decatur 4
Decatur 102 010 0 — 4 8 3
La Plata 000 030 2 — 5 7 0
WP Calvert, LP Donahue
Extra-base hits: 2B — Meekins (SD), Hickman (SD), 3B — Z. Snell (LaP); Stine (LaP), Calvert (LaP), Mitchell (LaP)