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Northwest beats Arundel for Maryland 4A baseball title

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J.J. Jan was in the dugout the first time it appeared that the Northwest baseball team’s charmed season had come to an end. He was in the on-deck circle a few batters later when it seemed the Jaguars had won the game. Coach Todd Verasco, down behind third base, did not even watch that play unfold, certain that his team had won its first state title.

In one of the wildest games in recent Washington-area play, Northwest rallied in the seventh and 10th innings before finally winning in the bottom of the 12th when Jan’s line-drive to left field scored Michael Coates for a 7-6 victory over Arundel in the Maryland 4A title game Friday at the University of Maryland.

“I knew going 2-0, they were going to throw me a fastball,” Jan said after the longest state final in Maryland history. “I saw it. I had to help my team out and that’s what I did.”

It was a thrilling game that saw Arundel take a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh. It was 5-2 when starting pitcher Dalton Durocher — who also had a single, double, triple and two RBI — appeared to have struck out Steven D’Amato for the game’s final out.

Several Arundel players started barreling out of their first-base dugout. But the pitch bounced to the catcher and D’Amato hustled to first base, beating out an errant throw. The players from the bench realized what was going on and retreated quickly.

With Northwest given another chance, Joey Moeltner’s single made it 5-3 and Tony Cianci’s double to right brought home D’Amato and Moeltner to make it 5-5.

Next, it was the Jaguars’ turn for a premature celebration. Two walks loaded the bases, then reliever Steve Ghiardi struck out Max Banks swinging at a pitch that was low and scooted past the catcher. But while the rest of Northwest’s base runners ran — and Cianci touched home plate for the would-be winning run — the speedy Banks thought the ball had been caught and was thrown out at first base.

“We had it in the books and then he didn’t run,” Jan said. “It’s all right. I got his back. We’re state champions.”

Ethan Plummer’s run-scoring double in the 10th gave Arundel a 6-5 lead, and again the Wildcats (20-7) were on the verge of victory in the bottom of the inning after Banks was tagged out in a rundown at home on a squeeze bunt play. But with two outs and nobody on, Scott Ardoin walked, then stole second and scored on Nick Siegel’s single to left.

In the 12th, Mike Shannon drew a leadoff walk and Coates ran for him. He stole second and scored on Jan’s second hit of the game.

“We’ve gotten so many good bounces throughout these playoffs,” said Verasco, whose team finished 16-6. “Several times today I thought we were done.”

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