The Hickory Hornets, Harford County's host team in the 2014 Cal Ripken World Series, will play for the tournament's United States championship Friday.
Hickory beat Maryland champion Prince George's County, 11-9, in a wild all-Maryland semifinal played Thursday afternoon at Cal Sr.'s Yard at the Ripken Experience powered by Under Armour complex in Aberdeen.
"U.S. Championship, one of the best feelings I've ever had, it just feels awesome," Hickory player Garrett McIlhenney said. "Whatever happens, happens; [we'll] come out and play our hardest."
Hickory will play the West Raleigh, N.C., winner of Thursday's other U.S. semifinal. West Raleigh was the tournament's 2013 U.S. Champion.
The winner of the U.S. Championship, which will be played at 5 p.m. Friday at Cal Sr.'s Yard, will then play for the tournament's World Championship on the same field at 8 p.m. Saturday.
"We have a chance, that what I told them in the dugout. If we hit, we'll be fine," Hickory manager Russell Metz said about the U.S. Championship.
In the semifinal, Hickory couldn't have asked for a better start, scoring two runs in its first at bat.
McIlhenney (3-for-4) continued his leadership from the leadoff spot, singling into center field to begin the rally.
He stole second and was headed to third a few pitches later when Philip Winfield grounded to shortstop Noel Aristy.
McIlhenney rounded third and held up, but grabbed the attention of Aristy, who double clutched, allowing Winfield to reach first safely.
Winfield stole second on the next pitch and Hunter Wright lifted a fly ball to left field, deep enough for McIlhenney to tag up; left fielder Anthony Morales, however, misplayed the ball, which got past him and rolled to the wall, allowing both McIlhenney and Winfield to score easily.
That same part of the lineup was at it again in the top of the third.
McIlhenney led off with a single, stole second and moved to third on a throwing error by the catcher.
Winfield walked, but was picked off first base. During the 1-3-6 rundown, McIlhenney scored from third to give Hickory a 3-1 lead.
Colton Knoble extended the inning with an two-out double and scored on Bobby Duffy's RBI single.
Leading 4-1, Hickory starting pitcher Colton Knoble went back to the mound for the bottom of the third, but four batters in, Knoble was finished.
Morales atoned for his first inning defensive mistake, hitting a leadoff double to left field. Jason Mackall followed with a bunt base hit, putting runners on the corners and turning over the lineup.
Donavan Frayer hit a slow bouncer toward first for an infield RBI single, as Morales scored and Mackall moved to third. Frayer stole second and Jack Bulger hit a chopper to third, which was fielded but thrown away at first, allowing both runners to score.
That was Knoble's last batter. Tyler Schimming came on to retire the side, but not before Noel Aristy and Chase Crosby added singles to plate Bulger with a go-ahead run.
Hickory answered immediately with its own four-run inning, highlighted by two big swings.
"This team just plays with resilience, manager Metz said. "They've been there before. We've won big games, we've lost big games, so they had to bounce. They know what it takes to stay focused."
Schimming tied the game at 5 with one swing. He hit a drive to left-center field that snuck over the Babe Ruth League sign, some 260 feet away.
"When I hit it, I first thought it was going to hit the wall and when I saw it go over, I was just so happy because it helped my team," Schimming said.
Andrew Rickard followed with a single, knocking Prince George's starter Jack Bulger from the mound. Frayer was the relief, but he had little success.
Hickory's Grant Duemmel greeted Frayer with a bunt single. Frayer got McIlhenney to pop out to short for the first out, but Winfield worked a walk to load the bases.
Wright then stepped in and lashed a bases-clearing, three-run double to the gap in right-center, putting Hickory back ahead, 8-5.
"I just knew I had to hit it hard," Wright said of big hit. "It was a very close game, I just had to wait on the ball, 'cause he wasn't throwing very fast and I knew if I stepped in closer in the box, I could pull the ball."
Prince George's scratched out another run in the bottom of the fourth. Morales tripled and scored on a fielder's choice.
Hickory was back at it in the fifth, using a two-out walk to ignite a three-run outburst against a third Prince George's pitcher, Aristy.
Duemmel drew the walk and McIlhenney bounced a single over the third baseman's head. Winfield struck out, but was safe at first on a wild pitch.
With Wright back in the batters box, another wild pitch allowed Duemmel to score and when the catcher's throw got past Aristy, McIlhenney raced home from third, sliding in ahead of the tag. Winfield scored the 11th run on another wild pitch.
Knoble added his second double of the game after Wright's walk, but a groundout ended the inning.
Hickory threatened again in the sixth, but a nifty strike 'em out, throw 'em out DP quieted the potential rally.
Prince George's added two runs in the fifth on Christopher Osorio's double. In the sixth, Morales scored on Frayer's groundout.
Looking toward Friday night, Wright said, "I know we're gonna win. I know it because our team's hitting, we're playing great defense and if we keep doing what we're doing, I know we're gonna win."
Japanese pitcher Shota Nozaki threw a two-hitter, striking out 10, as Japan shut out Republic of Korea, 5-0, in Thursday's first International semifinal at Cal Sr.'s Yard.
Japan will play Mexico winner in Friday's International Championship at 7:30 p.m.
Japan scratched out single runs in the second and third innings before getting a little breathing room with a three-run, fifth inning rally.
Yusuke Kawanake was hit by a pitch and moved to second on a passed ball. Ryusei Takeoka's two-out, RBI single put Japan on the scoreboard.
Ryusei Okamoto doubled with one out in the third and scored when Hiroki Yoshihara doubled with two out.
Okamoto doubled again in the fifth with two away. He went to third on a wild pitch and scored when Soma Sakashita reached base on an error.
Yoshihara then singled to continue the inning and Taiyo Hayashi tripled in the final two runs. Okamoto and Yoshihara led Japan with two hits each.
Geonyi Kim had both Korea hits. Donghyun Chun took the loss, yielding eight hits and five runs (one earned). He struck out five.
West Raleigh advances
West Raleigh, N.C.'s Garrett McCraw pitched and hit his team back into the United States Championship Thursday evening.
McCraw pitched a complete game two-hitter and had two big hits in a 4-1 win over Hanford, Cal., at Cal Sr.'s Yard.
McCraw struck out seven on the mound, while belting a long home run to center field to cap the scoring in the fifth inning.
West Raleigh jumped ahead with a pair of runs in the bottom of the second inning.
Lane Rhodes hit a one-out pitch just inside the right field line for a double. Rhodes advanced to third on a passed ball, with Jake DeFranco batting. DeFranco walked and stole second with Zach Miller at bat.
A passed ball allowed Rhodes to score the first run, while DeFranco scored on Miller's sacrifice fly to right field.
Hanford cut the lead in half in the top of the third. Trace Pires led off with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and to third on a groundout. Pires scored on another groundout.
West Raleigh got the run back in the bottom of the third. McCraw doubled and scored on Penn Sealey's single.
In the fifth, McCraw hit his solo blast out among the flags, some 300-plus feet away.
Pires, who had both Hanford hits, added another single in the sixth.
Good pitching dominated the final Cal Ripken World Series International semifinal Thursday night at Cal Sr.'s Yard.
It appeared first-time participant Puerto Rico might beat Mexico without a hit, but the perennial international power rallied for two runs in its last at bat to win, 2-1.
Mexico pitcher Andres Medina set a World Series single game record with 14 strikeouts in a complete game effort. For most of the game it appeared the two walks he issued would hurt him.
Puerto Rico pitcher Yanluis Ortiz wasn't bad either. He scattered five hits, struck out six and walked none.
Mexico's winning rally started with an Alex Ballesteros single, leading off the sixth. A sacrifice bunt and groundout moved him to third and Jesus Castillo singled to left field, driving him in.
Fernando Vilicana then singled to the pitcher and Ortiz threw wildly down the right field line, placing runners at second and third. Ortiz hit the next batter to load the bases and his first pitch to Jerry Cuevas bounced and went to the backstop for a wild pitch. Castillo raced home with the winning run.
Puerto Rico scored in its first at bat, courtesy of those two Medina walks, three stolen bases and a fielder's choice without the ball being put in play. Jorge Barreto drew a leadoff walk, stole second and third and scored when Mexico tried to pick off Ortiz at second base.
The play occurred when Yediel Rodriguez struck out, but the ball was not caught cleanly and Rodriguez took off for first. The out was recorded, 2-to-3, and then the throw went to second base to nab Ortiz, but Ortiz slid back in safely and Barreto raced home.