The Patuxent baseball team knew the toughest part of winning the Maryland 4A championship this season would be winning the East Region and overcoming opponents such as defending champion Old Mill and top seed Chesapeake.
So when the Panthers had Chesapeake down to its final out in the East Region semifinals Wednesday, they had a little extra bounce in their step as they stood in their positions in the field. They were ready to celebrate.
But after Chesapeake junior Jake Shibilisky drove a 2-0 pitch over the fence in deep center field to tie the game, the Panthers froze. After that fateful moment, their 3-2 loss in the eighth inning almost seemed inevitable.
"It was a really tough spot to get out of," Patuxent Coach Keith Powell said.
The moment was especially numbing because nothing seemed to slow the Panthers the past month; they won 11 straight games and their first SMAC title heading into the Chesapeake game.
"We did what we wanted to, which was win the SMAC," said junior pitcher Joe Klein, who was dominant against Chesapeake, going the first seven innings. "But I think we could have done more."
After advancing to the 3A state championship game last season, Patuxent (16-6) saw this year as its best opportunity to win a title, even though seven of the nine players who started in the Chesapeake game will return next season. The junior and senior classes produced a chemistry the Panthers know will be hard to replicate.
"These guys really got along," Powell said. "Sure, winning makes it better, but it didn't really matter what was going on."
Powell, though, knows that next season could be special with so many key players returning.
"It took me about a day, but I'm looking forward to next year," he said.
The returning Panthers, however, aren't ready to think about that yet.
"We're still down about losing," Klein said. "We had a good connection with these guys."