Mired in its worst hitting slump of the season, the Leonardtown baseball team went back to basics three weeks ago. The Raiders stopped taking batting practice off live pitching. Instead, they simply hit off a tee.
It was a refresher course in proper hitting mechanics, such as swinging down on the ball to produce line drives. The Raiders had been getting underneath pitches and popping them up.
While that drill might have compromised their collective ego at the time, the Raiders are now humbling their opponents with their bats. Their 12-2 mercy-rule victory over McDonough in the Maryland 3A South Region championship game Friday was the latest in an offensive renaissance that mirrors Leonardtown's torrid start to this season.
The win gave Leonardtown its fourth regional title and first since 1999. The Raiders will play East Region champion Centennial, a 16-3 winner over Long Reach on Friday, in a state semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Joe Cannon Stadium in Harmans.
"Parents were wondering about us," said Leonardtown junior third baseman Paul Burch, who went 2 for 3 and scored twice. "They know we can hit the ball. They said they were missing that team from early in the year."
The Raiders (17-6) began the season with three straight victories in which they totaled 31 runs. By midseason, however, that potency had vanished. Leonardtown lost three straight games in mid-April as part of a 3-5 stretch. In the five losses, Leonardtown scored just seven runs.
"We're a better team than that. We've been preaching it at practice," Raiders Coach Glenn Larnerd said. "Players get cocky and lose the sense of what they're doing."
And that was why Larnerd had them go back to square one.
Leonardtown had 11 hits in its four innings at the plate against McDonough. In Wednesday's regional semifinal, a 7-3 victory over Severna Park, the Raiders had 16 hits. They had eight hits as they overwhelmed Annapolis, 10-0, Tuesday in the regional quarterfinal, which was also stopped after five innings.
"We were crushing the ball" against McDonough, said senior Flynn Stachowski, whose first-inning three-run homer erased a 2-0 McDonough lead. Stachowski also pitched the first four innings for his second victory of the week.
McDonough (16-7), which was aiming for its first trip to the state tournament in school history, figured it had the answer to Leonardtown's bats in junior right-hander Ben Sobocinski, who was arguably the best pitcher in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference during the regular season.
Sobocinski, though, did not have his best stuff against Leonardtown. Rams Coach Vic DiBella said the Raiders jumped on the pitches Sobocinski left up in the strike zone.
Sobocinski's struggles trickled down to his teammates.
"It took some of the air out of them," DiBella said. "When they hit your ace like that, it definitely doesn't help."
After Stachowski's home run, Leonardtown followed with one run in the second inning, two more in the third and six in the fourth. Eleven Raiders batted in that inning, and the entire lineup either reached base or drove in a run.