ABERDEEN, Md. — When D.J. Coleman’s mother, Lovita Tice, died in February, the Southern third baseman approached Bulldogs Coach Frank Hood with a request: He wanted to dedicate his season to Tice and win a second straight state championship in her honor.
So in the fifth inning of the Maryland 2A state championship game against Eastern Tech, as Coleman stood in the on-deck circle at Ripken Stadium and watched catcher Billy Albaugh walk to load the bases, Hood called over to the junior.
“D.J., come here,” Hood said. “Remember that conversation we had?”
“Yeah, Coach,” Coleman said.
“Stay within,” Hood answered.
Coleman delivered a two-out, two-strike single to score two and break open the title game, and then he capped Southern’s 6-1 victory over Eastern Tech by snaring a chopper and getting the game’s final out at first base.
“All throughout my life she was signing me up for sports,” said Coleman, who had his basketball season cut short by a right shoulder injury. “She was my number one fan pretty much. I just got to dedicate it for all the hard work she put in.”
Southern is the first 2A school to win consecutive championships since Northeast did it in 1991 and 1992, and the Bulldogs are the first school to win two straight since J.M. Bennett’s 3A titles in 2011 and 2012.
Southern ace Truman Thomas had another strong start for the Bulldogs (16-8), and the Maryland recruit struck out 10 in six innings while allowing three walks, two hits and one run. The lone blemish on Thomas’s afternoon came when two Southern errors and a walk allowed Eastern Tech (14-8) to score its lone run.
But Coleman (2 for 3, two RBI) and designated hitter J.C. Dilts (2 for 3, two runs scored) paced the Southern offense and put the game out of reach.
“That was an intense game,” Hood said. “If we don’t get those five runs in the fifth, we’re still talking about a nail-biter.”
After Southern finished posing for photos and started cleaning out its dugout, players ran out to the first base line and home plate with plastic bags and grabbed handfuls of dirt and grass and zipped them inside. When the Bulldogs made the drive up from Harwood, they brought dirt and grass from their home field to spread on the field in Aberdeen.
Assistant coach Aaron Johnson brought the superstition to Southern from his previous playing and coaching stops at the Naval Academy and South River. The plan was to make the Bulldogs feel as comfortable as possible on their sport’s biggest stage. And it worked.
“Bringing a little bit of home town with us helps out a little bit so we’ll still feel like we’re at home,” Hood said. “And then we’ll go home and spread the pieces from this field at our place, so then now we’ve got a home away from home.”