You know things are going well when the home plate umpire approaches the home dugout looking for new baseballs four batters into an inning, and it’s not because foul balls have sailed over the fence.
That was the case Wednesday afternoon at La Plata, when the Warriors homered twice in the bottom of the fourth inning on their way to a 10-0 six-inning win over Chopticon in the Maryland 3A South semifinals.
Six of La Plata’s first nine batters had struck out, so when the ump came calling for balls, Coach John Childers had a ready quip.
“I’m sorry, Blue,” Childers recalled saying, “the ball’s been in the catcher’s mitt the first three innings, so I didn’t think we needed more balls.”
It did seem that way early, when Chopticon sophomore right-hander LJay Newsome, who handed the Warriors one of their three losses this season, retired the first nine batters in order, six by strikeout.
“It looked just like the first game,” Childers said, referring to that 4-1 loss against Newsome during the regular season.
The Warriors vowed to take a more proactive approach at the plate in the fourth inning.
Junior shortstop Denzel Johnson led off with the first home run of his varsity career. He pumped his fist as he all but sprinted around the bases. Senior second baseman Colin Stine then followed with the first of his three doubles.
Senior Zach Snell, who later in the game would sock a two-run homer and two-run double, drew a walk. And sophomore designated hitter Jimmy Monaghan drilled a three-run homer to cap the four-run fourth inning, when the Warriors went from overpowered to overpowering.
“It seems like we do this almost every game,” Johnson said of the team’s propensity for multi-run innings. “That’s what it took, just that spark.”
“You’ve got to go up looking to swing and being aggressive,” Stine said. “Anything close. [Newsome] was going to keep doing the same thing until we started hitting him. He was looking to throw it hard inside and throw it outside and pick the corners until we started hitting it.”
By the end of the fourth, Newsome was up to 80 pitches and did not return for the fifth, when La Plata tacked on three more runs, and then three more in the sixth.
There were three guys still on base when the 10th run scored with one out. Newsome struck out nine batters to run his season total to 81 strikeouts in 39 innings.
“[Newsome] poses a different challenge than we see most days out here,” Childers said. “I’ve talked to the kids a lot about having a plan when they get up there and adjusting and not expecting every at-bat to be the same. I think they did a good job of adjusting and trying to hit the outside pitch.”
The top six batters in the La Plata order went a combined 9 for 18. For the season, each of the six is batting over .360 with 15 or more RBI.
Warriors junior right-hander Alex Calvert struck out five and walked one in tossing a four-hitter. Chopticon (13-6) got a runner past second base only once.
La Plata (19-3), winner of 14 out of its last 15 games and the first back-to-back Southern Maryland Athletic Conference titles in program history, advances to host Huntingtown — which knocked off Northern — in the 3A South championship Friday.