Paul Burch stood outside Joe Cannon Stadium shrugging his shoulders and swallowing his pride. He and his Leonardtown teammates had been fooled.
The Raiders' overzealous hitters, who batted a whopping .342 this season and defeated two of their three opponents in the Maryland 3A South Region baseball tournament by the 10-run mercy rule, became victims of their own success in a 4-2 loss to Centennial in Wednesday's 3A state semifinal.
At their best, the Raiders felt they could hit any pitcher at any time. They saw nothing overpowering from Centennial's lanky senior southpaw Jon Dupski. He lacked a buzzing fastball or a particularly outstanding breaking pitch. Leonardtown knew it had hit pitchers with better stuff.
The Raiders figured they could jump all over him. Five of the first six batters swung at the first pitch.
"That might have been our problem," said Burch, who flew out in his first two times at bat after swinging at the first pitch. "We were all too over-aggressive and antsy at the plate. Everybody was trying" to hit it hard.
And that proved to be Dupski's biggest advantage. The Raiders were not used to facing a pitcher who had such masterful control of his pitches and the confidence to throw any one of them -- fastball, curveball, change-up -- on any count.
"We swung the bats hard, but it just wasn't our day," Burch said. "He mixed it up very well and hit his spots."
Leonardtown (17-7) was accustomed to getting ahead in the count and waiting for a fastball. But that rarely happened, because Dupski threw only 15 balls in the first five innings. At one point he went six batters without throwing a ball.
"He put the ball right where he wanted to," said Leonardtown Coach Glenn Larnerd, whose 25th season in the dugout included his 300th career victory. "He plays smart."
Leonardtown's pitching staff had been strong all season, as well, but the Raiders said they preferred to play a 9-8 game instead of a 2-1 duel. They were 13-0 when scoring more than five runs and 4-7 when they did not.
When the Eagles broke through for four runs in the top of the sixth inning on three Raiders' pitchers, the onus fell back on Leonardtown's hitting. The Raiders answered with two runs in the sixth on an RBI double by Burch and a run-scoring single by senior Cory Jones. It was too late, though.
His team's fourth trip to the state tournament did not surprise Larnerd. He said the Raiders did not overachieve this season. Except for a midseason slump, in which they scored 10 total runs in five games, losing four of them, Leonardtown put forth the most complete team in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference.
Larnerd recognized, however, that the Raiders' bats would take them only so far. He said there is no match for a dominant pitcher, not even a hot hitting lineup.
"Pitching's the key to it," he said. "If you don't have pitching, you don't get here. Most teams can hit the ball."