Rick Price needed a volunteer after Gaithersburg Post 295 had depleted its pitching staff by working its way through the loser's bracket and into the final of the Montgomery County American Legion tournament Sunday.
Jensen Pupa, a 2005 Northwest graduate who had served as the team's closer all summer, raised his arm and offered to pitch against Gaithersburg Post 104. It was Jensen's pitching arm -- and later his bat -- that played a key role in Post 295 claiming its third consecutive county championship and an opportunity to vie for a third straight state title.
Pupa pitched a complete game to lead Post 295 past Post 104, 7-5, to force a decisive game in the double-elimination tournament. He followed up his pitching performance by going 4 for 4 in Post 295's 13-3 victory. Joe Mattes pitched a complete game in the second victory and Justin Handler -- batting behind Pupa in the eighth spot in the lineup -- also went 4 for 4.
"Jensen had a wonderful game," Price said. "We've been using him as a closer all summer but I knew that he had started a lot of games in high school. He volunteered to pitch, and I was hoping he'd say that. We were in the loser's bracket and played a couple of extra games. We really needed somebody to pitch a complete game at that point.
"Jensen has pinpoint control and puts the ball where he wants it. He throws three pitches [fastball, curve and change-up] and it makes it pretty tough on hitters when you can do those things."
Post 295 opens the state tournament against Western District champion Funkstown tomorrow at Shorebirds Stadium in Salisbury. The state tournament, which runs through Tuesday, is familiar ground for Post 295, but Price said the team is particularly eager to get another shot at the Mid-Atlantic Region title. Gaithersburg, which has gone 2-2 at the region tournament in each of the past two seasons, will lose 10 players after this season who have been a part of the past two state championship teams.
"It's a huge thrill," said Price, who has coached Post 295 since its first season in 1984. "The kids are very excited about being able to defend their state championship. This is the last chance for 10 players and they definitely want to take one more shot."
Post 295 suffered just its third loss of the season against Post 104 on Thursday, forcing the team to win its remaining games to remain in the tournament. Price said the pressure didn't affect his players.
"They weren't nervous, just anxious to get back on the field," Price said. "I don't think these guys are ever nervous about anything. They just wanted another chance to get back on the field and another chance to play the team that just beat them.
"All of our championship clubs have been similar. We have a good team -- we are very lucky to have everything we need to have a good baseball team. We have good pitching, good defense and good hitters. We really can't ask for anything else."