By capturing this month's NACA championship, Riverdale Baptist's baseball team ran its win streak to a school-record 30 victories (Courtesy of Riverdale Baptist)
By capturing this month’s NACA championship, Riverdale Baptist’s baseball team ran its win streak to a school-record 30 victories (Courtesy of Riverdale Baptist)

Two months ago, when Riverdale Baptist’s baseball season began, the Crusaders would have been happy with one win. Facing one of its toughest schedules in recent memory, one of the area’s most storied teams looked like a shell of itself following two losses in its first three games.

But even though the Crusaders roster featured its share of new players, the team knew better than to panic. There was no time for that. With a doubleheader on March 12 and six games the following week, the Crusaders found themselves applying the ever-popular sports cliche: take it one game at a time.

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“You could say there was a little doubt because we were still jelling together and seeing how the new faces would react in certain situations,” senior Nehemiah Wright said. “Our coaches told us we had no choice; we had to work and we had to fight.”

That attitude stayed with the Crusaders as they won those next eight games. Soon their win streak reached 10 in a row. Then 20. And then 30 when they captured their third straight National Association of Christian Athletes championship last week. The school-record run finally came to an end Wednesday when Riverdale ran into the highly touted arm of Brandon Fraley and Caravel (Del.) in a 4-1 loss at home.

The Crusaders’ competitive fire left them sorely disappointed in the defeat’s immediate aftermath. But as they reflected on their unprecedented string of perfection, one that broke the school’s previous record of 23 straight wins in 2006, the Crusaders developed an appreciation for what had transpired during the past 10 weeks.

“We hadn’t felt that feeling of a loss in a long time, but after looking back on it, I think we realized what we had accomplished,” senior outfielder Zechariah McPhearson said. “I’ve never been a part of anything like this.”

Technically, what the Crusaders did was no different than one of the goals they annually set for themselves — win 30 games.

”Obviously, we never thought it would all come in a row,” Riverdale Baptist Coach Ryan Terrill said. “But before we knew it, we hit 10 games, so we said, let’s go for 20 in a row. Every 10 games, we would sort of reset as a way to break it down and say, ‘Okay, let’s come out and go 1-0 now.’ ”

Along the way, the Crusaders experienced a wide spectrum of outcomes, from close calls to dominant performances, each sparked by the balance afforded by a roster with seven players committed to play in college.

At the plate, the Crusaders hit .390 as a team, with Harold Cortijo’s average of .551 and 37 RBI pacing seven different players hitting .400 or above. The junior has been just as impressive on the mound, teaming with Chris Caulfield (Frederick Community College commit) to combine for 94 strikeouts and 13 wins.

All of those pieces came together during a 15-3 win against Calvert Hall in March that both Wright and McPhearson credit for fueling the Crusaders’ historic streak. McPhearson, a Penn State football recruit who may also play collegiate baseball, scored three runs while Jose Rivera and Joey Mendez (Longwood) totaled seven of the team’s 15 RBI against the perennial power Cardinals.

“That’s when we found out how good we could be,” said Wright, who will play at Harford Community College. “We’ve got great hitters and great athletes, and to win a game like that in a week where we had six games, that showed us a lot.”

Riverdale also demonstrated resilience, overcoming deficits to WCAC runner-up Good Counsel as well as Johnson Ferry Christian Academy (Ga.) in the NACA Division I final. Down 4-0 entering the third inning, sophomore Seth White’s hit to right field and Wright’s RBI single two at-bats later ignited a five-run inning that sent them to the title.

Next week, the Crusaders will look to bring home another trophy in the Maryland Private Schools baseball tournament — and start another win streak along the way.

“Some people were joking with my dad about me breaking his old record,” Terrill said about his father, Terry, who coached the Crusaders for 38 years before handing the reins to his son prior to last season. “He smiled and said, ‘Yeah, it only comes around once every 40 years.’ ”

NUMBER CRUNCH: 100
Speaking of win streaks, Sherwood softball took its loooonng string of success to new heights Thursday by capturing its 100th straight victory in a 6-0 win against Howard.

PHOTO GALLERY OF THE DAY
McKinley Tech’s Denzell Brown could not be stopped at Thursday’s DCIAA track championships. The junior won four events, including the 4×400 relay with a pulled muscle, while Wilson’s boys and girls swept the team titles.

BREAKFAST LINKS

WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY
Landon at Bullis in the IAC baseball championship, 4:30 p.m.
The Bulldogs, winners of the regular-season IAC title, will go for their first outright championship when they take on Landon. Follow Nick Eilerson (@NickEilerson) on Twitter for updates.