When the 2019 Atlantic League season for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs ends, whether that includes a spot in the playoffs or not, one thing that will not be forgotten is how much the team continues to fight and play hard night after night.
That was apparent in the first two games of a three-game series versus the New Britain Bees played Tuesday and Wednesday night at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf.
Southern Maryland fell 3-2 to New Britain in the opener on Tuesday night, stranding the tying run at second base in the bottom of the ninth inning, then came back Wednesday night and won 3-2 led by solid efforts from starting pitcher Dusten Knight and three relievers to hold off the Bees.
Wednesday’s contest began after a 45-minute weather delay and Knight’s third pitch of the game to New Britain’s Darren Ford went over the wall in left-center field. After that, Knight settled down and allowed just one more run in his outing, which went six innings and finished with three hits and seven strikeouts.
“I kind of got too comfortable at the beginning of the game and then that home run hit I kind of got a little emotional, I got a little mad, but Charlie [Blue Crabs catcher Charlie Valerio] kept me in it,” Knight said. “Charlie is such a great catcher, he’s always keeping me in it. He’s always getting me in whenever I feel like I’m getting out, mentally. He called a great game and it was all because of him.”
Knight would yield to the bullpen for the final three innings with the the Blue Crabs leading 3-2. Adam Choplick, James Dykstra and closer Mat Latos made the one-run lead stick as each tossed scoreless innings from the seventh through the ninth with neither pitcher allowing a baserunner. Latos struck out two of the three hitters he faced in the ninth to pick up his 25th save.
“Chop, Dykstra and Latos, they’re lights out. They have been all year, ” Knight said. “Look at the numbers, the numbers don’t lie. They come in and they shut the door. Anytime the other team is facing those guys, they know, ‘Hey we’re going to have manufacture one run if we can,’ but they never do, so those guys are just phenomenal to have behind me.”
Blue Crabs manager Stan Cliburn added: “They all know their roles, they’re all comfortable with it. They know how they’re going to be used, when they’re going to be used and they got their mental game on before they even go out there. For a 6:35 start, they’re already thinking about what’s going to happen in the seventh, eighth and ninth inning and they’ve been doing their job, sure have.”
Southern Maryland (55-74 overall, 29-30 Freedom Division second half through Wednesday) started the series six games back of York in the division standings and still remain there with 11 games left in the season before the Blue Crabs played the finale of the New Britain series on Thursday night. Long Island, which had its 12-game win streak snapped by York on Wednesday evening, comes to Southern Maryland for a three-game weekend series starting tonight.
“I’ve seen teams go on 10-, 12-game winning streaks and that’s what we’re going to have to do,” Cliburn said. “Take it a day at a time and just hopefully at the end we can say we gave it our best.”
Southern Maryland, trailing 1-0, got on the board with a two-out rally in the bottom of the second. Valerio doubled down the right-field line and came into score on Jon Griffin’s RBI single to tie the game at 1.
The Blue Crabs took the lead in the third. Edwin Garcia singled with one out and moved to third on a two-out single by Tony Thomas. Garcia scored on an RBI base hit from Cory Vaughn, then Valerio followed with an RBI single to bring home Thomas and the hosts led 3-1.
Knight gave up a homer to Jared James to start the fifth to trim the Southern Maryland lead to 3-2 and that would be all the scoring.
“Our team has a lot of resilience. We have a lot of good players on this team,” Knight said. “Sometimes we don’t put it all together, but I think this team can win it all if we just get on that roll and I think we are right now.”
Tuesday night’s opener with New Britain saw the Blue Crabs get behind by two runs in the first and were never able to get the big hit to overcome the early deficit.
Ford greeted Southern Maryland starter Daryl Thompson with a single to begin the contest. Ford advanced to second on an error and later scored to open up the scoring, then New Britain added another run on a Jonathan Galvez RBI single.
Thompson, the La Plata High School graduate, worked around another error behind him in the second to keep the deficit at 2-0.
The Blue Crabs got on the board in their half of the third on a two-out solo homer by Garcia. New Britain regained its two-run lead at 3-1 on a Logan Moore sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Thomas homered with two outs in the sixth, his 15th of the season, to bring Southern Maryland back to within a run at 3-2.
The Blue Crabs got the tying run on base in the seventh as Rubi Silva singled with one out, but Silva later was caught stealing second to end the inning. Kent Blackstone had a base hit with one out in the eighth, moved to second on a Garcia groundout, but was left stranded as Griffin was called out on strikes.
After Dykstra got out of a jam in the top of the ninth to keep it a 3-2 game, Vaughn and Joe Benson hit back-to-back singles with one out in the bottom half to put the tying and winning runs on base. But Silva popped up a bunt that was run down in foul territory by New Britain closer Jim Fuller and Josh McAdams hit a ground ball in front of home plate and was thrown out at first to end the game.
“Just didn’t get the key hit [in Tuesday’s loss], but tonight we blooped some balls in to get the runs across.” Cliburn said. “That’s baseball. You find the holes and sometimes the ball bounces your way and you get the win. But if it doesn’t, sometimes you lose those tough one-run games.”
Thompson (15-8) took the loss. He went eight innings and allowed three runs (one earned) on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts, throwing 108 pitches (79 for strikes).
Thompson’s 15 wins still lead the Atlantic League and his strikeout total rose to 151 and that also is best in the league.