The Old Mill baseball team had every reason to feel optimistic about this season, returning almost its entire lineup from last year and featuring a deep senior class. Yet about a month ago, the Patriots found themselves sitting three games under .500.
“Things at one point were pretty bad,” Old Mill Coach Charlie Chaffin said. “I wasn’t sure we would turn it around fast enough.”
Chaffin adjusted his practices, trying to keep the atmosphere loose, while some of his team’s key players returned from injuries. Old Mill built momentum, and on Friday afternoon in Edgewater the Patriots claimed the Maryland 4A East region title with a 2-0 win over South River, their 10th consecutive victory.
After securing its first region crown since 2003, Old Mill (15-8) will face Whitman in the Maryland 4A semifinals Tuesday at Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda.
“We knew we could play way better than we did in the beginning of the season,” said senior right-hander Hunter McKean, who pitched a shutout Friday. “When we figured it out, things just kind of clicked for us. I saw a lot more aggressiveness.”
Old Mill’s turning point, Chaffin said, came April 17 when the Patriots beat South River (16-7). The Patriots then fell to Archbishop Curley and McDonogh before starting their winning streak.
In the sixth inning Friday, catcher Hunter Parish provided Old Mill an insurance run with an RBI double. In the Patriots’ dugout, meanwhile, Chaffin asked McKean whether he wanted to pitch the seventh.
“He goes, ‘Coach, I got this,’ ” Chaffin said.
McKean struggled at times as a sophomore when Chaffin placed him in tough situations. But this season, Chaffin said, McKean never loses his calm demeanor, even in postseason games.
When Old Mill sealed its victory with a double play, McKean jumped off the mound with a smile and players in Old Mill’s dugout rushed toward him.
Chaffin has looked forward to this season since he took over the Anne Arundel County program three years ago, knowing this season’s senior class could contend for a state title. Since losing to Severna Park by a run in the second round of last year’s playoffs, Old Mill’s players have hardly stopped thinking about reaching the state championship.
“We didn’t necessarily talk about it, but we all knew it’s been a while,” Parish said. “We needed this for the school, for the community — for everybody.”
After the Patriots posed for photos with their championship plaque, Old Mill’s coaches grouped their players together in left field.
“State semifinals,” the Patriots screamed as they jumped around South River’s outfield. Next, they will aim for their first state championship since 2003.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Chaffin said. “But this group can do it.”