As they have done all season, every player in the Catonsville lineup did something productive to help the Comets win another big game.
But, Tuesday night’s 4-3 win over Winston Churchill (11-11), in the Class 4A state semifinals at Shipley Field at the University of Maryland, College Park, was the biggest of them all.
The victory advanced them to the state championship game, where they will play South River, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 24, at Ripken Stadium.
Catonsville makes its first appearance in the state finals since the 1976 squad won the school’s only baseball state championship.
They lost in the state semis in 1975, 1978, 1990 and 2007.
Aberdeen’s Cal Ripken Jr. was the winning pitcher, 4-3, against Catonsville in 1978.
The Catonsville team has turned that 4-3 score into a magical one with wins over Dulaney in the second round of regionals and Westminster in the regional finals by the same score.
This time, the Bulldogs fell victim to the 4-3 tally.
All 10 Comets (17-4), who played significant time, contributed, and deserved red carpet kudos.
Starting pitcher JD Klein and reliever Tim Birkmeyer battled out of jams the entire game and the defense never let them down.
In the bottom of the first inning, when the Comets fell behind 2-1, left fielder Ryan Whittington threw out a runner at the plate after a base hit.
In the second, with a runner on second base, third baseman Danny Bruno (two doubles) prevented a run with a diving play and throw to first from his knees.
Jeremy Davis drove in his second run to tie the game at 2-2 after Kevin Sheppard doubled with one out in the third.
In the top of the fourth, it was daring base running and small ball that took center stage.
Following a single by Whittington and walk to Joey Getzendanner, Brendan McTaggart laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, putting runners on second and third with one out.
Ninth batter Scott Beautz delivered a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Whittington for a 3-2 lead and advancing Getzendanner to third base.
After Wheelton walked, the count to Sheppard got to 0-2.
But before Ryan O’Carroll fired another pitch, Wheelton ran towards second, stopped, and got in a rundown.
O’Carroll turned his back on Getzendanner, who stole home for the fourth run, before the Bulldogs tagged out Wheelton.
“We were going to try it if the count got to 0-2 and it did and the pitcher didn’t know what to do,” Wheelton said.
“It was great execution,” Catonsville coach Rich Hambor said.
The risky play that gave them a two-run cushion eased some nerves, but they came to the surface in the final four innings.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Bulldogs cut the lead in half after three straight batters reached.
Eric Brodkowitz landed on second after a bunt single and throwing error to ignite the rally.
He scored on Matt Castelli’s single.
Castelli advanced to second on Matt O’Lone’s single and took third on a botched pickoff attempt by Davis.
With the tying run on third and no outs, Klein struck out Zach Thibodeau looking on a fastball on the outside corner.
With Nick Cohen at the plate, O’Lone stole second, putting the go-ahead run halfway home.
Klein induced pop ups to second baseman McTaggart and first baseman Sheppard to wriggle free from the jam.
The Comet ace (8-2) got in hot water again in the bottom of the fifth when Mike Albers drilled a one-out triple down the right field line.
On an 0-1 pitch to Charles Defillippo, Klein yielded a fly ball to a charging Beautz in right field.
The junior snared it on the run and fired to home, where Davis made the tag for the final out with plenty of room to spare.
Comet relief pitcher Tim Birkmeyer jumped into his own cauldron of hot water in the bottom of the sixth.
But, with runners on first and second and nobody out, the senior right-hander fanned O’Lone on a tight inside fastball.
Thibodeau popped out to shortstop, but Birkmeyer walked Nick Cohen to load the bases.
O’Carroll grounded out to Getzendanner to end the inning.
The Bulldogs threatened again in the bottom of the seventh after a pair of walks sandwiched a fly out to Beautz in right.
Eric Brodkowitz bunted foul on the next pitch, then drilled a liner to right center that was snagged by Beautz.
He turned and fired to first baseman Sheppard and doubled off the runner to end the game and bedlam ensued.
“Everybody is so excited and the kids are playing so well and so hard and they are just ecstatic to be there,” Hambor said. “I told them to enjoy it and live in the moment.”
The moment is extra special for senior starters Wheelton, Davis, McTaggart, Sheppard and Birkmeyer.
“It’s just exciting for the seniors to make it to the last game and hopefully we can go out with a bang,” Wheelton said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun