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News Maryland Harford County Bel Air

Headed back to the baseball state championships [Commentary]

Sitting here thinking about all the state championship games I've covered, without daring to do something logical like verifying my data, I've come to the number 18. That is how many MPSSAA title matchups I have attended during my six full high school sports seasons as a sports reporter with The Aegis.

The sports represented on that list are girls soccer, boys soccer, softball, girls basketball (though I don't cover that sport during the regular season, and was simply there because Aegis sports editor Randy McRoberts was on vacation), field hockey and baseball. I listed field hockey and baseball last, because they account for the lion's share of those 18 games, with six apiece. I don't cover field hockey any more, though that may change in the future, so it is stuck at six state championship games, but baseball, with Bel Air winning Tuesday's wild semifinal matchup and headed to Saturday's 3A final, moves into first place with seven.

That's a lot of state finals and, not to denigrate any of the other sports being played in Harford County, it speaks to the level of baseball that's being played in Harford County. Of the five local teams that have made it to the finals in the last six seasons, four are playing in the UCBAC's Chesapeake Division, which I've said many times is one of the best public school groupings in the state of Maryland.

At the end of the first high school sports season I covered for The Aegis, 2007-08, C. Milton Wright, then playing in Class 4A, advanced to the finals, while Harford Tech, playing in the 1A tournament, did as well. They both ended up on the wrong end of one-run heartbreakers within hours of each other, with Harford Tech losing, 4-3, to St. Michael's after being, if I remember correctly, two outs away from winning, and CMW losing, 7-6, to Sherwood despite holding a one-run lead late in the game. CMW's current head coach Joe Stetka, who was at the helm of the Mustangs that year, told me, after I relayed news that he'd been selected as The Aegis' Coach of the Year, that he'd give up all of the awards, and possibly his left leg, if he could go back and fix one inning of the state championship game, that being the inning when CMW lost its lead.

"I have nightmares about that inning, Dewey," Stetka told me.

Fallston lost to Frederick, 7-2, the following year in the 3A title game, but the next season brought the only state championship baseball team I've covered, the 2010 CMW squad, which went 23-0 on its way to a 3A crown. After the Mustangs beat Huntingtown, 4-1, in the final, CMW skipper Tony Blackburn said to me, "I'm glad we did it this year, because I'd be all out of answers if we didn't. This is easily the best team I've ever had." It was one of the top two or three teams I've had the pleasure to write about, in any sport.

The 2011 season saw Patterson Mill make its first trip to the baseball finals, where the Huskies lost, 4-0, in the 2A title game to North Caroline (that same year, North Harford lost 2-1 in 15 innings to LaPlata at the 3A semifinal game, which was one of the most gripping contests I've ever witnessed), and last year North Harford advanced to the 3A championship, but lost, 5-2, to J.M. Bennett, which was riding something like a 44-game win streak.

I guess that's a long way of saying that I've been to plenty of baseball title games, but five times out of six I've had to interview players and coaches who want to do anything but talk about the game they just lost. I don't cheer in the press box, but I want the Harford County team to win the state title, in baseball and every other sport, because that's the better story (which might be a cynical way of looking at it, but I'll run that risk). So, I'm pulling for Bel Air on Saturday in the 3A championship, my seventh baseball title game.

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