Held without a hit through three playoff games, the first big play Darius Jones delivered Thursday with was with his glove. Then the senior center fielder nailed a double off the left field fence that jump-started his team’s offense and soon Patuxent was on its way to the Maryland 2A championship game.
Jones made a sensational diving catch to end the bottom of the fourth inning and keep the Panthers within three runs and his hit started a four-run rally that put Patuxent in front and it held on for a 6-4 victory over Patterson Mill in a twice-delayed state semifinal at the University of Maryland.
“His catch totally changed the game,” Panthers Coach Keith Powell said. “If that ball lands, who knows what is going to happen. They were hitting Cody [Robertson] pretty hard, had us on the ropes.”
Patuxent (19-4) will play Williamsport, a 3-0 winner over Loch Raven in Thursday’s second semifinal, in Saturday’s Maryland 2A final at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen at 1 p.m.
Patterson Mill (19-5), located in Bel Air, had gotten to Robertson early, building a 4-1 lead that would have been more if not for Jones’s diving catch of a sinking line drive to end the bottom of the fourth.
“He’s made tremendous catches throughout his high school career,” said Robertson, who entered with a 0.73 earned run average but allowed four runs [two earned] in four innings. “I knew there was a good chance he was going to get it. But when he laid out and made the catch, I was speechless.”
Despite the highlight-reel play, Patuxent still trailed by three runs and had managed just three hits in four innings.
With one out in the fifth, Jones was an unlikely candidate to get things going, mired in a slump. Had the game been at Blair High — where it was originally scheduled for Tuesday and where the teams got in two batters Wednesday before storms hit — Jones thought it surely would have been a home run. The double, though, was enough.
Daniel Castro, Jeffrey Morgan and Brian Portillo followed with run-scoring singles, tying it 4-4. After a fielder’s choice and two walks loaded the bases with two outs, Preston Ross hit an infield single for a 5-4 lead.
“State semis, you’ve got to lay out, but I didn’t think it would be a game-changer completely,” Jones said. “But I knew we would respond to a big play like that.”