Standing in the outfield after a final postgame talk from Coach Ed Glaeser, Thomas Stone catcher Aaron Jenkins was able to reflect with pleasure on the team's playoff run that had ended minutes earlier with a 6-5 loss to Bowie in a Maryland 4A semifinal last Wednesday.
"It was fun," Jenkins said. "I guess if it had to end, this is one of the best places. We can't hang our heads. We were the 4A East champs and beat three of the top teams in the state. There were a couple of big calls and a couple of big hits that we didn't get. That's it."
Indeed, Thomas Stone (16-9) enjoyed a surprising postseason run. In a span of five days, the Cougars eliminated Anne Arundel County powers Arundel, Old Mill and Chesapeake to claim their 11th regional title and advance to the state semifinals.
Thomas Stone felt good about its chances against a Bowie team that was trying to win Prince George's County's first state title since 1984. But every time the Cougars got anything going, the momentum changed quickly.
There was the first-inning flyout that would have been a sacrifice fly and given Thomas Stone a 3-0 lead, but while the ball was deep enough to score the run easily, the runner left third base before the ball was caught and Bowie's successful appeal ended the inning.
The Cougars left two runners on base in the top of the fourth, and Glaeser was particularly upset with a call in the bottom of the inning when he thought a runner improperly slid into second base to break up a double play. The inning continued and Bowie scored a pair of runs for a 5-3 lead. Thomas Stone scored once in the fifth on a two-out walk and three consecutive singles, but had a runner thrown out at home to end the inning.
"It always seemed like we would get the momentum and get a couple hits, and then they would come up and get hits," Jenkins said. "We weren't expecting them to hit that good. It seemed like they didn't have any holes in their lineup all the way down."
Thomas Stone got a boost from relief pitcher Jon Kale, who had a run-scoring single in the fourth inning and singled in the sixth, leading to the tying run. But Kale, who had thrown 11 scoreless innings in the regional tournament, was unable to keep the game tied in the bottom of the sixth.
"Our Achilles' heel is offensively we just don't hit very well," Glaeser said. "Giving up six runs was not in our game plan. The first inning really hurt us. That, to me, was a big turning point. We had all the momentum and it was taken away from us.
"People underestimate what Bowie has. They hit the ball well. We had a good run and we did not underestimate Bowie at all, but they're much better than people think."