By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 28, 2005
It was a curveball low and away, and all Quince Orchard's Mike Celenza could think about was going with the pitch and hitting it in the air. His team had fallen behind by seven runs in the first two innings of the Maryland 4A championship game, but now, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, Celenza had a chance to finish it.
So when the ball dropped safely into left-center field, Celenza touched first base, then fell on his back in celebration. His teammates mobbed Matt O'Keefe, who scored the winning run and gave the second-ranked Cougars a 10-9 victory over Arundel, claiming their first state title in front of 600 fans at Joe Cannon Stadium in Harmans.
However, after completing its thrilling comeback, Quince Orchard (20-2) had to wait a few extra minutes for its 13th consecutive victory to be official.
Arundel Coach Bernie Walter ushered his players back onto the field, summoned the umpires from their locker room and waved the postgame trophy presenters off the field as he disputed the decisive play. Walter said runners on second and third had not advanced to the next base on Celenza's hit and could be forced out for a potential inning-ending double play.
After returning to the field, though, the umpires ruled the game over and the teams shook hands. Tournament director Paul Fahrner said the umpires determined that all of the runners on base had advanced.
"I don't think I've ever been part of a game that good," Quince Orchard first-year coach Jason Gasaway said. "I definitely haven't been a part of that in a game of this magnitude."
For much of the game, it looked like Arundel (14-9) was headed for its record 10th state title. Shawn Pleffner's three-run home run capped an early scoring binge as the Wildcats took a 7-0 lead. The game's starting time was moved from 7 p.m. to 3 p.m. so Quince Orchard's players could attend the prom last night, but it did not appear the Cougars would be in a partying mood.
"That did cross my mind," said Quince Orchard's Brett Fox, who came on in relief and allowed only two runs in the final five innings. "But that was something I tried not to think about."
Quince Orchard scored three runs in the fourth and three more in the fifth despite having a runner thrown out at the plate trying to score on a wild pitch. Fox then tied the game at 9 in the sixth with a double to right-center that brought in Justin Handler.
Kevin Collins led off the bottom of the seventh with a walk and O'Keefe followed with a sacrifice bunt. An errant throw to first sailed down the right field line, but Arundel second baseman Nick Palmer chased after the ball and his throw home was just in time to get Collins trying to score from first. Arundel then intentionally walked the next two batters to load the bases, setting things up for Celenza.
"I flicked it," said Celenza, adding that he was nervous at the plate. "The outfield was in. I was just trying to poke it over their heads and get it done."