Two months ago, Atholton senior center fielder Brady Acker predicted that this would be the spring that Howard County ends its five-year baseball state championship.
Back in March, Acker wasn't haughty enough to predict that team would be his own Atholton Raiders. But after coming back to defeat visiting Mt. Hebron, 8-4, on Tuesday to complete an undefeated league season, he feels comfortable thinking state title.
"I know at the beginning of the season I said that someone in the county might do it, and I think this year might be our year," said Acker, who led off the bottom of the third with a solo homerun on Tuesday. "We're playing good as a team, so hopefully we can do it."
The Raiders (17-0) collected three extra base hits on Senior Day, all from departing players.
Catcher James Bagley ripped a bases loaded triple to deep center field in the fifth, and Matt Gross drove a two-run double to left in the sixth.
Bagley's triple was just the third extra base hit of his varsity career, and it put Atholton back ahead, 5-4, after the Raiders allowed three runs on a hit batter, a throwing error, an Ian Reid two-run double and a Jack Schroeder sac fly in the top of the fifth.
"I'm not really known for my power, but I knew that fastball was coming over the plate because it had in the last couple of at bats and I hadn't hit it. I really felt like I could so I just swung and when you swing hard good things happen," Bagley said. "Once we picked it up, we picked it up pretty big and it was awesome. It was a little scary, but when I looked at the team I knew this team has come back in a lot of games and we can win games when we're down."
Atholton took an early 2-0 lead on Acker's home run and a bases loaded walk drawn by senior Bryan Gsell. But Mt. Hebron (10-7) got one run back on a majestic solo home run to right by Vikings' catcher Paul Lutchenkov, then took a two-run lead with the big fifth.
The Raiders, hungry to defend their county title, wasted no time coming back though. Junior shortstop Jordan Patterson followed Bagley's triple with an RBI single, then Gross' big double in the sixth gave the Raiders a comfortable lead, which junior Nick Raulin protected with two scoreless innings of relief (3 K, 1 BB).
"That was our first goal, to win (the county title) outright, but we've got some future goals that our team has aspirations for in the playoffs," Atholton coach Jon Dupski said. "Our senior class, we're going to miss them ... They've been engrained with (fundamentals) since we coached them on JV ... They've contributed so much to our program."
In addition to Lutchenkov's home run and Reid's double, Chris Anderson added a bunt single, while Michael Lettieri led off the game with a single.
"The better team won today ... they deserve the county championship. They came up with more timely hits than we did," Mt. Hebron coach Brian Culley said. "I still believe in my team and we look forward to working hard in practice over the next few days in order to get ready for what we hope to be a long playoff run."
Atholton and Reservoir (16-1) have clinched the top two seeds in their section, but the rest of the draw won't be revealed until Wednesday night. Atholton handed Reservoir its only league loss, 3-2, in the first game after spring break.
"I'm excited that we went out with a bang, undefeated season, county champs. It's exciting for our seniors and hopefully we can keep it going in the playoffs," said Acker, who will play for George Mason next year, and also hit a home run in a 2-0 win over Marriotts Ridge on Monday. "I think we're looking forward to seeing Reservoir again, they've turned into our rivals."
MH (10-7) 000 130 0 - 4 3 2
A (17-0) 002 042 x - 8 10 2
Smith, Lettieri (5) and Lutchenkov. McCann, Raulin (6) and Bagley.
2B: MH — Reid. 3B: A — Bagley. HR: MH — Lutchenkov; A — Acker.
Around the league
Glenelg Country 6, Severn 4
Marriotts Ridge 9, River Hill 4
Wilde Lake 5, Oakland Mills 3
Cuinn Mullins, Jack Lewis (2 R), Sergio Irizarry-Cruz (2B, BB, R) and Jeff Jones (RBI) each had two hits for the Wildecats. Thomas Aubin doubled and drove in a run, and struck out six with only one walk in six innings.
Glenelg 17, Long Reach 14 (8 innings)
Glenelg 4, Long Reach 3 (9 innings)
Glenelg wrapped up its regular season with a pair of exciting wins over Long Reach. In the first game, the Gladiators prevailed in a contest suspended due to rain last week.
Senior Tyler Hoeflich had three hits, including a two-run home run, and earned the victory on the mound.
Junior Garrett Southern had three hits, including two doubles, driving in five runs. Junior Anthony Bowman earned the save and had three hits and two stolen bases.
The second game served as Glenelg's Senior Day, and all eight Gladiator seniors started.
Alex Melcher pitched four solid innings, leaving with a 2-2 tie. Juniors Carter Mullinix and Anthony Bowman closed out the last three innings, and freshman Sean Kinioch came on to pitch the eighth with the game still tied. Sophomore Cole Yungmann finally earned the win, pitching the top of the ninth and providing a bases loaded walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth on a full-count.
Junior Garrett Southern started the rally with a big lead-off double.
Senior Jake Franke had a double, a walk and scored the game winning run.
Senior Eric Johnson contributed a sharp single in the third.
Senior Chris Dornan delivered a well-executed sacrifice bunt in the ninth.
Senior Pat Laport singled and drew a walk.
Senior Tyler Hoeflich had a walk and a single, and a game saving defensive stretch at first base in the top seventh.