While his players stormed the field in celebration of the Potomac Valley Athletic Conference championship, Sandy Spring Friends Coach Ben McClellan hung back on the dugout rail and watched the scene of jubilation on the Shirley Povich Field infield.
This was McClellan’s third straight year in the final, and his players — none of whom is a senior — had only known heartbreak at the tournament’s last game.
After watching other teams storm the field, McClellan wanted to savor his squad’s turn.
So he watched as the Wildebeests mobbed around pitcher Zain Bamji, who threw a complete game in the 4-0 victory over Jewish Day School to cap an undefeated season in PVAC play. This is what he, his players and the school had been waiting for.
“It was a big sigh of relief because I thought we were going to win it freshman year,” said Sandy Spring Friends catcher Sage Bittinger-Esser, a junior who was named tournament most valuable player. “I was for sure thinking we were going to win it sophomore year. And this year I just knew it was our time. We weren’t going to let it go.”
Though Bamji kept the Lions’ bats in check and allowed four hits for the game, the Wildebeests (13-3) struggled to string together offense against three Jewish Day pitchers. Instead, Sandy Spring Friends relied on miscues, scoring a run in the first inning on a groundout after an error moved a runner to third base.
In the fifth, the Wildebeests loaded the bases after a single, walk and a hit batter and scored three runs on a sacrifice fly by Daniel Petrucci, a ball that got past the catcher and a groundout by Davy Adise.
“We worked hard all season long,” Bamji said. “The goals from the beginning of the season were we want to go undefeated, we want to get this banner.”
Bamji added some high drama in the game’s final inning.
He loaded the bases with two outs and brought the tying run to the plate for the Lions (7-4). But he induced a flyout to center, and before the ball had even settled into Alex Rubino’s glove, Bamji began celebrating.
“Every year I’ve ever come here, I’ve got terrific kids,” McClellan said. “I sat there and I wanted to watch them storm the field and celebrate because I’ve seen other teams do that, and I wanted this to be our moment and their moment. It was a little more dramatic than I wanted it to be, but that made it all the more sweeter with that last out.”