After more than three hours and 334 pitches, 23 stranded base runners and two controversial calls, the Maryland 4A East region championship in Pasadena came down to a single fastball, high and inside.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning Saturday afternoon, Chesapeake senior Jordan Prosper watched two balls sail past him. Then a strike. Then another ball. The Cougars’ home crowd was rocking, and North Point’s pitcher was visibly rattled.
“If the ball was right there, I was going to swing at it,” Prosper said. “But it was inside, so I just let it go.”
Prosper’s walk-off walk forced home John Drexel, who scored the only run in Chesapeake’s heart-stopping 1-0 win over the Eagles. The Cougars captured their sixth region championship and first since 2010. They will face Gaithersburg — which won the West region title with a 5-4 victory over Whitman — in a state semifinal Tuesday at the University of Maryland.
As Drexel touched the plate, North Point’s pitcher threw his mitt on the ground and ripped off his jersey. Some of the Cougars tackled Drexel, while others chased down Prosper in the infield. One player clutched a plastic toy sword the team found on the field before practice two weeks ago, now dubbed “the rally sword” and displayed in the dugout during each game and practice.
“It must’ve just been dropped down from above or something,” Prosper said of the sword. “So we just all took it in. It gives us good luck. It’s the sacred sword.”
Chesapeake (21-2) didn’t bring out the sword until it was needed, midway through the fifth inning. After two errors and a single, senior starter Andrew Spinnenweber was replaced by classmate Chase Delost with no outs and the bases loaded.
Delost, the team’s regular first baseman, had been on the mound in this exact situation earlier in the season during a tournament game against Loyola-Blakefield. Throwing almost exclusively fastballs, he struck out two North Point batters looking and induced an inning-ending pop fly.
George Washington signee Kevin Hodgson kept North Point in the game with 13 strikeouts over eight stellar innings. He threw 131 pitches. But the Eagles (14-8) could never take advantage of his effort, stranding 14 base runners.
“We could set the table,” Coach Bill Chichester said, “but we couldn’t clear it.”
The two teams remained gridlocked until the 11th, when a controversial call shifted the momentum in Chesapeake’s favor. North Point junior Anthony Haynes drove the ball to the left-field fence for a potential leadoff double. But as he rounded first base and headed for second, the umpires did not rotate into position to see the play.
Haynes slid as Spinnenweber applied the tag. The first base umpire signaled that the runner was safe while the home plate umpire simultaneously called him out. Haynes was eventually ruled out, turning a potential double into a quick out.
That shred of fortune was all Chesapeake needed. In the bottom of the inning, Drexel hit a leadoff single, and North Point’s pitcher intentionally walked one batter, struck out two, then hit one with a pitch. That set the stage for Prosper.
“It was an exhausting game,” Chesapeake Coach Ken King said. “But this time of the year, you can look at all the brackets, the games are not blowouts. They’re all tight. So for us to come through in a tight game and come through ahead — to do that, we know now that we can.”