That thing I said I hoped would happen in last week's column actually did, and the Bel Air Bobcats held on to win the 3A state baseball title Saturday night with a 3-2 victory over La Plata. As I pointed out in the last installment, that was the seventh baseball championship game that I've covered, and in the previous six, only the 2010 C. Milton Wright team came out with a victory.
A 2-5 record is not very good, but all the memories of watching Harford County teams go down in the title game were washed away when the Bobcats recorded the final out. So, as to not seem like a fan boy, as opposed to a serious journalist who looks at everything with an objective eye, here are some observations I scribbled down while Bel Air battled LaPlata:
I wish every state final was held in Ripken Stadium: I mean every one, except maybe for the football state title games, which take place at M&T Bank Stadium, which has the biggest and best-appointed press box I've ever been in. But, aside from that, I'd be thrilled if MPSSAA just converted the grounds at Ripken Stadium and held the baseball, softball, field hockey and lacrosse championships there. Swimming, basketball and wrestling couldn't be held there for obvious reasons, and this is a totally unfeasible pipe dream anyway, but after you have to cover a three-hour long baseball game while sitting on a metal folding chair at Joe Cannon stadium in Hanover, or after you get sunburned while covering a state softball semifinal at Bachman Park in Glen Burnie, the friendly confines of the Ripken Stadium press booth are so, so nice. You have adjustable office chairs, air conditioning, free wifi for your laptop and an unbeatable view. Writing this also makes me realize that I'm lucky to cover a minor league baseball team that has a nice home park, as a lot of the teams in the New York-Penn League play at stadiums that are not much better than what you'd see at a typical community college.
Baseball really is a game of inches: To clarify this right off the bat, every sport is a game of inches, but there was a play made during Saturday's baseball championship that drove home how small the margins are between winning and losing in baseball. In the bottom of the sixth, with one down, runners at the corners, and La Plata at the plate, Bel Air, up 3-2 at the time, looked to be in trouble. As I saw it, Bel Air reliever Tyler Norcross needed a strikeout, an infield pop up, or, best of all, a grounder to one of the middle infielders, which would set up an inning-ending double play. It turned out I was way off, as the final La Plata hitter of the inning slashed a liner up the first base line, right at Bel Air's Matt Hottman, who then stepped on first to double up the runner. Inning over. Hottman was playing close to the bag because he'd been holding the runner, and that put him in perfect position to catch what would otherwise have been a double, maybe a triple. If there's not runner on first, it's a tie game, and La Plata has the go-ahead run in scoring position with one out. Honestly, when the ball left the bat my eyes went immediately to the right field corner, because I thought that's where it would wind up, but, instead, it was caught, and Bel Air wins, 3-2. It's a game of inches, I tell you.
Errors and more errors: This isn't a dig at Bel Air, because the Bobcats deserve every ounce of credit they can get for bringing home the state championship trophy, but the two teams they played in the state tournament, North Hagerstown and La Plata, made a combined 13 errors (North Hagerstown seven, La Plata six). At least half of those came on throws by infielders, which can be at least partially attributed to Bel Air's baserunners hustling and forcing bad tosses, but that's still an awful lot of defensive miscues.
I guess that is a good illustration of something I've heard both as an athlete and a sportswriter: If you want to win the big games, you have to be good, and things have to be going your way. Things were going the Bobcats' way, and they have a state title banner to show for it. Well done, fellas.