Unlike some UCBAC title games, in which the Chesapeake (upper) Division champ punishes the Susquehanna (lower) Division squad and cruises to an easy victory, the Bel Air Bobcats didn't do any cruising in Wednesday's baseball conference championship.
Bel Air was six outs away from being upset by the Bo Manor Eagles before rallying for six runs in the bottom of the sixth to win the game and the UCBAC championship, 8-3.
Bel Air, the Chesapeake (upper) Division winners trailed, 3-0, heading into the home half of the third before scoring their first two runs, and were still a run behind going into the bottom of the sixth, when Nic Loiodice led off by outrunning a grounder that was muffed by the Bo Manor infield. Loiodice then put himself in scoring position single handedly, stealing second and third.
"Nic is a real sparkplug for us," Bel Air head coach John Swanson said. "He's only a junior, but he's really vocal, a team leader."
Bel Air's J.D. Bruck followed by earning a walk, then Tyler Norcross was intentionally walked by the Eagles, putting runners at every bag with no outs. Rich Rivera tied the contest at 3-3 by belting a high fly to the corner in right that allowed Loiodice to tag up and score from third. Bo Manor then intentionally walked Matt Hottman to load the bases, bringing Matt Wallace to the plate. Looking for a fastball, Wallace got one on the first offering and drilled it to the wall in right center for a two-RBI double. The two-bagger was Bel Air's lone extra-base hit of the contest.
"I was excited that they walked Hottman to get to me," Wallace said. "I didn't think I was going to hit into a double play, so I knew I had a chance to get one run in at least. I just tried to drive the ball the other way, and I got it up in the air. That was my third time seeing [the Bo Manor pitcher], and he'd thrown me fastballs three straight times, so I was waiting to see another one."
With their first lead of the contest, the Bobcats scored three more times, increasing their advantage to 8-3 before the Eagles could escape the inning.
Norcross, who had come on to relieve starter Ryan Gibson with no one out in the top of the second and worked through the remaining six innings, had some trouble in the top of the seventh, walking three hitters to load the bases, but eventually shut the door on the Eagles with three strikeouts.
The Eagles scored their first run in the first, then added two more in the second to go up 3-0.
Bel Air first got on the board in the third, with Sam Foss starting things via a walk. Dylan Franz followed with a walk and Brandon Clifford got to first with a bunt base hit. Loiodice hit into an RBI fielder's choice to make the score 3-1 and Bruck lofted a fly to left that allowed Franz to score from third.
Trailing by just one run, the Bobcats were set down in order in both the fourth and fifth innings.
"[The Bo Manor] pitcher had some movement on his pitches, and he really battled," Wallace said. "It just took us a while, but it's taken us a while all year. I knew sooner or later it was going to come. That's how it's been all season for us. It's not 'if,' the [runs] are going to come, but 'when,' they're going to come."
"I tip my hat to [Bo Manor]. Their pitcher tossed a heck of a ballgame," Swanson said. "They came out relaxed. It took us three or four innings to really get moving. We've had a couple of our ballgames this year where we started slow, then got moving, and I give credit to my guys, because they don't panic. It's a little hard on me sometimes when we take that long, but it is fun to watch."