Members of the Leonardtown High School baseball team stood anxiously at the front of the dugout Saturday night at Joe Cannon Stadium in Glen Burnie, their fingers clinging to the brick overhang, their hopes clinging to a thread.
In desperate need of a miracle to overcome a seven-run deficit in the top of the seventh inning of the Maryland 3A state championship against South Carroll of Sykesville, the Raiders instead came up empty, falling, 8-1.
It brought an end to the Cinderella run by Leonardtown (14-12), which along the way had upset more than one opponent -- including Southern Maryland Athletic Conference champion Thomas Stone in the 3A South region final.
"Nobody in the SMAC thought we were anything this year, but we knew that we were," said Raiders senior pitcher Kevin Burch, whose team was eliminated last year in the semifinal round of the state tournament. "So as a team, I'm sure we'll be able to look back on this and feel very proud to have been a part of the championship game. But as a senior, as a four-year varsity member, I can tell you it's going to be a long night."
Burch, who came into the game in relief of starter Mike Shutty in the second inning, yielded six hits, walked four and struck out six.
Meanwhile, South Carroll's Brandon Woodward certainly came with enough speed -- he threw most of the game in the low- to mid-80s and topped out at 86 miles per hour -- and variety to give Leonardtown little opportunity to put the ball in play all night. The senior right-hander was not perfect on the mound -- he walked six batters, including three straight in the second inning. But he struck out 14, including three of the last four batters he faced, while giving up only two hits.
"Pitching has carried us all season," said Cavaliers Coach George Richardson, whose team finished at 21-4 and won its first state baseball title ever. "And Brandon is the kind of pitcher who does a great job working his way out of a hole. I never, not once, gave a thought to taking him out of the game. Certainly not when he walked the three batters. Brandon knows how to get himself back in a game. I thought he was excellent tonight."
So were the Cavalier batters, who totaled nine hits.
Three came in the first inning, resulting in four runs. With a runner on first, Cavaliers center fielder Kevin Damiano tagged Shutty for a two-run home run over the right center field fence. South Carroll scored two more runs in the inning when Ben Carr and Eric Laverick, each of whom reached base on a single, scored on a fielding error by Leonardtown second baseman Scott Raley.
The Cavaliers added an insurance run in the third.
The Raiders scored their lone run in the top of the fifth inning when Shutty singled to start the inning, moved to second on a balk by Woodward, advanced to third on a sacrifice fly by Burch and came home on an error by Carr at third base.
But South Carroll brought three more runs home in the bottom of the fifth for the convincing win.
"Getting behind early shouldn't have hurt us, but mentally it did," Leonardtown Coach Glenn Larnerd said. "The real problem with us today is that we weren't swinging the bats. Their pitcher threw a great game, but we've seen as good or better pitchers in our own conference. But we didn't do the job we needed to on the offensive end. Unfortunately, that happens. Unfortunately for us, it happened in the state final."
Leonardtown (14-12) 000 010 0 -- 1 2 3
South Carroll (21-4) 401 030 x -- 8 9 2
Shutty, Burch (2) and Franc; Woodward and Harrison.
CAPTION: With shortstop Tracy Vallandingham waiting on deck, Leonardtown players rise from their seats in the dugout, hoping for a seventh-inning rally that would never come against South Carroll in the state 3A baseball championship game. Below, Leonardtown's Kevin Burch fires a pitch after relieving starter Mike Shutty.