ABERDEEN, Md. — When the Southern baseball team clinched its spot in the Maryland 2A state championship game this week, it took three days for the school to even announce the accomplishment in its halls.
Just two games above .500 during the regular season, the Bulldogs were quintessential underdogs. Few people gave them much of a chance to beat Parkside at Ripken Stadium on Saturday — including those at their own school.
But with one sweet swing, senior Garrett Gibson changed all of that. With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, he hit a flare that dropped in deep center field, bringing home Chris Blair to secure a 3-2 victory.
Southern won its first state baseball championship, and Gibson flipped his helmet into the air as he was mobbed by teammates in the infield grass.
“We did what others couldn’t. Absolutely no one had faith in us,” said Gibson, who also drove in a run in the fifth. “There’s no better feeling. That right there was the best thing that has happened to me in my entire life.”
The moment marked the end of an improbable journey for the Bulldogs, the only 2A school in Anne Arundel County. Last year, they finished 6-16 and lost nine of their final 11 games. Early this season, they fell to 2-5 after a 10-0 loss to North County.
Southern (16-9) rattled off eight straight wins soon thereafter, leaning on the senior leadership of five three-year varsity players.
At the end of their unlikely championship run, it was only fitting that it came down to a seemingly unlikely hero: Gibson. He was hitting nearly .400 entering the game, but at 5 feet 11 and 250 pounds, he lacks the traditional build of a baseball player.
“Everybody ignores him because of body type,” Southern Coach Frank Hood said, “but let me tell you what — the boy can flat-out hit.”
Gibson finished the job, but right-hander Steve Hogan and left fielder Mitchell Johnson gave him the opportunity. Hogan limited the Rams, who knocked out No. 3 Poolesville in the semifinals, to seven hits and two runs while striking out five. Johnson, meanwhile, had one of the game’s biggest plays in one of its most pivotal moments.
After a two-out single by Parkside’s Matt Smith in the top of the seventh inning, Johnson collected the ball and saw Adam McKinney rounding third base and heading for home. The junior fired a near-perfect throw to catcher TJ Gleeson to end the threat from Parkside (20-4).
“I have faith in my teammates, and [Johnson] came through when we needed him,” Hogan said. “Heck of a game. I’m speechless honestly.”
After the championship plaques had been distributed, the team photos had been taken and the Bulldogs had given Hood an ice-water bath, Gibson stood in the center of the infield, clutching his plaque with two hands.
“We got no respect,” he said, staring at the prize. “Now, I think we finally will.”