Round and round they passed the championship plaque, each Churchill baseball player taking a moment to lay a kiss on the precious trophy. Suddenly, a season marred by bitter losses and a slew of injuries took on a much sweeter taste following Friday’s 4A West region championship game in Rockville.
Sparked by a five-run first inning, the Bulldogs defeated host Wootton, 10-5, marking their third playoff win against a team they had previously lost to back in April and their first region crown since 1985. The Bulldogs advance to face Catonsville in a Maryland 4A state semifinal Tuesday.
“We’ve had some injuries and lost six games by three runs or less, but these guys have battled the entire year,” said Coach Scott Blackwood, whose team entered the playoffs with a losing record at 7-10. “It’s just finally clicked for us, where the guys got tired of losing. All it took was a little taste of victory near the end of the season.”
Churchill’s (11-10) renewed attitude surfaced early and often Friday, as its first eight batters reached base safely in the top of the first. Ryan O’Carroll was the first to turn opportunities into runs, belting an RBI double that scored Zach Thibodeau. The next batter, Brandon Hubbard, knocked a single that brought two more runs home before a Michael Albers triple and Drew Legum single built a 5-0 Churchill lead.
The quick surge proved a stark contrast from the Bulldogs’ previous two games, when they used late rallies to gut out wins. While Thibodeau noted that those prior contests “helped set us up for today,” Blackwood remained cautiously optimistic.
“I was thinking, ‘Is this really going to happen to us? Is the other team going to come back on us now?’ ” Blackwood said with a laugh.
The Patriots (13-8) made it appear that way during the middle innings. After Churchill’s Eric Brodkowitz replaced Albers on the mound in the fourth inning, Wootton scored three quick runs, the biggest coming on a two-run home run by Glenny Woolschlager that cut Churchill’s lead to 7-3. The Patriots tacked on another run in the fifth when Boaz Ru scored on a sacrifice fly by Woolschlager.
But Brodkowitz would settle down, retiring the next five batters he faced to keep the Patriots at bay.
“Eric put together a clutch performance in a real tough situation,” said Thibodeau, who went 2 for 3 with an RBI and three runs scored. “It sounds cliché, but we just kept believing, even with four of our guys dealing with injuries and us losing a bunch of close games.”
One of those guys was Matt O’Lone, who returned to the lineup Friday after missing a portion of the season. The junior’s RBI single led to two more runs for the Bulldogs, who secured their eighth straight win.
La Plata repeated as 3A South region champs by beating Huntingtown, 9-7. The Warriors advance to Tuesday’s state semifinal at 4 p.m. at Joe Cannon Stadium, where they will face Stephen Decatur, which beat Reservoir, 3-1, in the 3A East region final.
North Hagerstown won its second straight 3A West region crown, needing nine innings to beat Seneca Valley, 6-5. The Hubs move on to face Bel Air at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Joe Cannon Stadium.
Patuxent is back in the 2A state semifinals after downing Marriotts Ridge, 4-3, in the South region final. The Panthers will play North Caroline at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Blair. Following that contest will be Catoctin, a 5-1 winner against Williamsport, taking on Dundalk in the other semifinal.
Finally, Dunbar beat Surrattsville, 9-0, to repeat as 1A South region champs and set up a state semifinal contest with Cambridge-SD at 4 p.m. Tuesday at McCurdy Field.