Towson High broke open a close game with 12 runs in the final two innings to defeat host Franklin (17-3) in the Class 3A North Region Section I baseball finals, 14-0.
Towson (12-8) advances to the regional championship game on Friday, May 18, against Bel Air.
Southpaw pitcher Nick Testoni pitched five no-hit innings for the Generals before being relieved by Andrew Decker, who allowed one hit in the final two innings.
Decker (2-for-3) busted the game open with a bases loaded three-run double with one out in the sixth.
“I was looking fastball and as soon as he gave me one, I jumped on it,” said Decker, who batted .628 during the regular season.
“I’ve been coaching for 15 years and he’s the best catcher I’ve seen,” Towson coach Brad Eastham said.
Actually, Decker’s two-inning relief stint, or bases clearing two-bagger, may not have been the most important contribution he made.
That came in the bottom of the fifth inning when he gunned down Franklin freshman Reid Bark trying to steal second with the Generals clinging to a 2-0 lead.
“Decker threw a guy out with only one out, caught him stealing, which really helped us out in a tough inning because Nick was kind of fizzling out towards the end,” Eastham said. “If you ask me, that’s one of the defensive plays of the game.”
Towson’s offense took a while to click against Franklin’s emergency starting pitcher Clark Vandergrift.
“Scott Warrington was supposed to be our starter today and he didn’t give up an earned run all year, but he said something clicked in his shoulder today, so at the last minute, I had to put Clark in there and he did well for me, but he’s always been my two or three-inning guy, he’s never really stretched past that,” Franklin coach Ryan Hain said. “He pitched well, just I would have liked to throw him after Warrington, so that kind of switched things around on us.”
Towson got a run in the first inning after Robert Brino led off with a walk and advanced to third one-out later on a hit by Decker.
He scored on a sacrifice fly by Jake Orendorff (3 RBIs), giving the Generals a 1-0 lead.
In the second inning, Testoni was hit by a pitch with one out, went to third after Connor Brown reached on a throwing error, and scored on a single up the middle by Diego Menegatti, making it 2-0.
The insurance run proved to be just what Testoni needed, as he allowed base runners in each of his five innings, four on walks and two on hit batsmen.
But, he also struck out seven Indians.
“Everything was working [for Nick] today,” Decker said. “He could throw change-ups for first-pitch strikes. He was good.”
Testoni found his comfort zone in his off-speed offerings.
“I had a little trouble locating my fastball, but my curve ball and change-up and were really working for me,” Testoni said. “Honestly, probably my best pitch is my curveball, sometimes I feel like I’m more confident throwing that for a strike than my fastball, but today it was really on.”
Franklin coach Hain was impressed.
“He did a good job mixing his pitches up, I thought he moved the location around and kept us off-speed and he would through a fastball in there, when we were looking for the off speed stuff,” he said.
Franklin’s only hit came from Lucas Carr, off Decker with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Had the Generals allowed no hits, it would have been the second straight game in the playoffs, after starter Kyle Sulkowski and Decker combined on one in an 11-1 win over Parkville in the sectional semifinals.
Decker has been the closer all season, but coming in during a no-hitter is a little more pressure.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking, but I actually did it in the other game (Parkville),” Decker said. “I had to come in with one out to go, but I couldn’t do it for Nick this time.”
Franklin’s pitching was also strong in the previous playoff game as Matt Bark pitched seven innings and Eric Herbert pitched the final two in a 4-3 win over Lansdowne in nine innings.
“It was one of them where nine innings only took two hours,” Hain said. “Both pitchers were throwing strikes, so it was moving. That was a great baseball game.”
It was the opposite against Towson.
Towson’s offense came alive against a parade of Franklin pitchers in the sixth and seventh innings when they capitalized on 11 Franklin walks.
The scoring in the four-run sixth began with a base loaded walk by Ben Sebastian.
In the seventh, runs scored on a sacrifice fly by Sebastian, two-run single by Orendorff and bases loaded walks to Connor Brown, Diego Menegatti and Carl Paredes.
Brown drew four of the 16 walks issued by Franklin pitchers.
“We emphasized patience, patience, patience, we emphasize that all the time,” Eastham said.
Meanwhile, the pitching has been consistent all season.
“We’ve been pitching well all season long,” Eastham said. “Most of the games we’ve played this year, our pitching has kept us in it. It’s nice that we are playing our best baseball at the end of the season and that is our philosophy and that was our goal in the beginning of the season.”