Howard scored nine runs in the first four innings and held on for a 9-6 victory over host Dulaney in the Class 4A North Region championship game Friday.
It was the first regional baseball title for Howard since 1998 when it lost in the state semifinals.
Howard junior Ryan Kearney came on in relief with two outs in the fourth inning and retired eight of the final 11 batters.
He allowed inherited runner Drew Bossi to score on an infield groundout by Jack Tarantino and held the host Lions (18-3) scoreless on one hit the rest of the way.
“That kid has got ice in his veins,” Howard coach Nick Hoffner said. “That situation out there is not going to phase him. He just went out there and he kept making pitches.”
Howard’s first runs came on a two-run single by Brian Jakubek in the first inning.
“That was huge,” Hoffner said. “Anytime you get a lead in a game like this, you can get some momentum going. That’s big.”
Jayden Cowan had two hits and Craig Wiley had two RBIs for the visiting Lions (16-7).
Cowan led off the game with a single and Sam Jacobson doubled him to third before Jakubek’s one-out two-run single up the middle.
Jake Alagna manufactured a run in the second for Howard when he scored on a base hit by Cowan.
“Jake Alagna had a great at-bat in the second inning,” Hoffner said. “It was a seven-pitch at-bat. He walks, steals second and gets a good secondary lead, and scores on that ball that Jaden hits into left field.”
Howard blew open the game in the fourth inning when it scored six runs.
Darian Kassiri started the rally with a one-out walk. He stole second and third before scoring on a strikeout that went to the backstop and allowed Kearney to reach first base.
Alagna walked and Cowan was walked intentionally to load the bases.
Jacobson walked in a run and Ryan Kulick singled in another. A bases-loaded walk to Cam Robinson and a two-run single by Wiley ended the uprising.
Dulaney’s Ben Stoner pitched a scoreless fifth inning and Hayden Williams blanked Howard for the final two innings.
“[Williams] did a great job. He has been solid for us,” Dulaney coach Drew Burton said.
Dulaney rallied with three runs each in the fourth and fifth innings.
Bryce Frederick (2-for-3) led off with a walk and was forced at second on a grounder by Bossi, who reached second on an overthrow to first.
Pat Fitzgerald reached on an error, and Bossi and Fitzgerald both scored on a single by Tarantino.
Tarantino stole second and scored on a run-scoring single by Mitch Lavoie, making it 9-3.
Howard’s Connor Williams came on in relief of sophomore starting pitcher Gabe Delgado, who departed after throwing 73 pitches.
“Gabe did a really good job,” Hoffner said. “I pulled him in the fourth inning. That wasn’t his fault. His pitch count was getting up there.”
Nolan Masko, Frederick, Bossi and Stoner had singles in the fourth with Bossi and Stoner driving in runs for Dulaney before Kearney relieved Connor Williams.
Kearney retired Tarantino on the RBI groundout, hit Casey Drechsler and ended the threat by getting Lavoie on a fly out to center fielder Alagna.
“Our bullpen was diminished and coach asked me to go in, and I just went in and threw strikes,” Kearney said. “You’ve got to keep them off-balanced because my fastball isn’t overpowering.”
Dulaney, who had beaten defending state champion Bel Air, 6-3, in the regional semifinals, brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh when Hayden Williams stroked a two-out single and Tarantino reached on an error.
But Drechsler was retired on a flyout to end the game.
“At no point in this game at all were we thinking we were going to lose,” Burton said. “Down 9-0, we still thought we were going to rally back. This team wants it more than any team that I’ve ever coached.”
“I’ve got to give Dulaney a lot of credit,” Hoffner said. “They got down 9-0 in the fourth inning and those boys didn’t have any quit whatsoever. They fought all the way back and they had us on the ropes, but Ryan Kearney pitched lights out out there.”
Kearney hadn’t pitched in over a week, but was confident.
“I knew I had a good defense behind me and I was just trying to throw strikes and let them hit ground balls,” Kearney said.
He also praised the offense that scored nine runs on only seven hits.
“Early in the season, Brian Jakubek said we are a scrappy team and that’s the perfect adjective,” Kearney said. “We take advantage of every opportunity we get.”
Howard will play the Severna Park-North Point winner in the state semifinals on Tuesday at Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda.
H-Delgado, Connor Williams (4), Kearney (5) and Jakubek
D-Fitzgerald, Beard (4), Stoner (5), Hayden Williams (6) and Lavoie