Working through a few frightening, late-inning jams in Tuesday's Class 3A state semifinal game with North Hagerstown, Bel Air's ace pitcher Tyler Norcross helped lead the Bobcats to the win and a trip to the state title game.
Norcross watched the tying run step the plate six times in the sixth and seventh innings, but each time he managed to retire the opposing batter, sealing the Bobcats' 7-5 victory over the Hubs in a the semifinal, which was played at Joe Cannon Stadium in Hanover.
With the win, Bel Air will move on to play in the 3A state championship game against LaPlata at Ripken Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Norcross came on in relief of starter Ben Webber with one man out, the bases loaded, and Bel Air leading, 6-3, in the bottom of the third. He quickly fanned the next two North Hagerstown hitters to end the threat.
Aside from a single in the fifth, Norcross held the Hubs hitless for the next two innings, but then ran into trouble in the bottom of the sixth. With Bel Air holding a 7-3 advantage, the Hubs connected for three straight singles to start the inning, scoring once to cut the Bobcats' to three runs.
With men on second and third and no one out, however, Norcross rang up the next two hitters on strikes, then ended the inning with a groundout to short.
"When stuff like that happens, you just have to take a breath and focus," Norcross said after the game. "You have to dig down and find something. I knew they could hit the ball really well."
It was more of the same in the Hubs' final turn at the plate, as North Hagerstown's leadoff hitter smashed one of Norcross' offerings over the left field fence, making the score 7-5, and the next man up roped a double to left center.
Three more times the tying run strode to the plate, but this time Norcross did not need the help of his fielders, as he fanned three straight to end the game.
"He's a gamer," Bel Air head coach John Swanson said of his winning pitcher. "Luckily, we have 19 guys like him on this team, who are willing to do whatever we need to win ball games. I'm proud of my guys. Now we just have to win one more game."
Over 4-2/3 innings Norcross struck out nine and did not allow a walk.
Bel Air's big inning turned out to be the first, when the Bobcats sent 11 men to the plate, and took advantage of four North Hagerstown errors to score five times. During that stretch, Bel Air's Matt Hottman blasted a two-RBI double that put the Bobcats up, 4-0.
After the Hubs scored twice in the bottom of the first, Bel Air extended its lead to 6-2 in the top of the third, with Nick Loiodice driving home one run via a hot liner to first that was mishandled by North Hagerstown.
In the fifth, Bel Air scored its final run, as Matt Wallace, who led off with a single to right, scored on Brandon Clifford's sacrifice bunt.
"It's never easy, but we got it done," Swanson said. "That's what we've done all season. North Hagerstown is a good team, and they have a lot of dangerous hitters. We knew that kid that hit the homer off of Tyler in the seventh could swing the bat, and he proved it to us. My hat goes off to them. I'm glad we're moving on though."