HAGERSTOWN — The Mid-Atlantic Conference baseball final has often come down to the little things, so on Saturday a key moment in Flint Hill’s 8-5 loss to St. James was not a home run or a strikeout but a sign.
The teams had played two close games in the regular season — St. James won both, 4-2 and 5-4 — and in the title game the Saints took an early 4-1 lead. In the second inning, they added to that lead in a big way thanks to a little bit of deception.
With Lane Gay on first and Spencer McNamee on third for St. James, Coach Matt Noll gave Gay the signal: He clasped his hands together, like a pitcher coming to the set position.
“We had talked about [the play], it’s been in, we’ve reviewed it and we have not run it in two years,” Noll said. “And the last time we did it, it was not successful.”
The Saints talked about the play every few weeks this season, and Gay said when the playoffs began, coaches reminded players, “This thing’s still on.”
Gay tipped his hat to McNamee, and McNamee tipped his in response. When Gay eased off first to trigger a rundown, McNamee darted for home. Gay was able to avoid being tagged out and got back to first just as McNamee slid home with the third run of the inning.
Ensuring some drama to end the day, Flint Hill fought back with three runs in the seventh inning, making Saturday’s game another close one. Down 8-2, the Huskies loaded the bases with no outs on two walks and an error, chasing St. James starter Zach Crampton . An RBI groundout followed by a two-run double by Brendan Albrittain trimmed that deficit to 8-5.
But Alex Walsh worked an 0-2 count full before making the second out on a foul pop-up, and Jackson Werth drilled a liner right to the glove of McNamee in center field, ending the Huskies’ threat.
St. James was familiar with MAC tournament drama after losing last year’s final on a game-ending walk. Crampton said the Saints played this season with the mind-set of “Not again.”
Flint Hill, meanwhile, salvaged some momentum heading into the Virginia state playoffs after opening the MAC tournament with an 11-0 rout of St. Andrew’s Episcopal and a 6-0 shutout of Maret.
“We walked too many early and, uncharacteristically for us, made a couple of mistakes defensively — not necessarily errors, but mistakes that we don’t usually make,” Flint Hill Coach Tom Verbanic said Saturday.
But he said he told his team to be encouraged by the seventh-inning rally, and to build on that heading into Tuesday’s playoff opener against St. Christopher’s in Richmond.