Riverdale Baptist‘s baseball team headed to the National Association of Christian Athletes tournament in Dayton, Tenn. with thoughts on Crusaders freshman Richard Gaither, a team manager, who was set to undergo his fourth brain tumor operation May 9, the date of the championship game of the NACA tournament.

No. 5 Riverdale Baptist went 4-1 in Tennessee and won the title game against Knoxville Christian (Tenn.), 14-2, for the Crusaders’ third NACA title. The Crusaders strung together their best five-game offensive stretch of the season outscoring opponents 49-14.

Pitcher Taylor Bloom, pitcher/shortstop Seth Williams, pitcher Brett Jones, and shortstop Brody Cook earned all-tournament honors for their play. Cook, a junior, was named the offensive most valuable player after hitting 17 for 23 (.739) with 10 RBI.

“I would attribute our hitting to the chapel sessions,” Cook said. “We were able to come together as a team and built some team chemistry. Richard is one of our main driving forces to allow us to stay focused. We realize every day is not given, and  we just went out and hit the ball really hard.”

With a potent mix of hitting and pitching the Crusaders (23-5) have reached the 20-win plateau for the 28th straight season. Maryland signee  Bloom has been dominant on the mound, and he has posted a 1.91 ERA with 78 strikeouts and just eight walks allowed.

Bloom pitched in the final matchup of the four-game pool play, a 17-4 rout of the Knoxville Christian team the Crusaders faced in the championship.

“That was an all-around great performance, the team pulled together,” Riverdale Baptist Coach Terry Terrill said. “We stayed in a cabi,n and I think they got really close. They played with a passion and focus, and they got it done.

Riverdale Baptist will play Caravel Academy (Del.) on Tuesday and then will open play in the Maryland Private School tournament Thursday at 7 p.m. against Good Counsel at home. That game will be preceded by DeMatha against No. 10 Spalding at 4 p.m., also at Riverdale Baptist.

Tournament officials are still hashing out a location for Friday’s final. There is a chance that could be between DeMatha and Riverdale Baptist, who met April 25 in a game that was suspended in the top of the third inning because of rain and lightning.

“I’m very excited, we have some top notch players we get to play against in that tournament,” Cook said. “I’m excited to possibly see DeMatha after that rainout game. I’m really looking forward to giving it a good shot and coming back with a championship.”