The magical aura surrounding the Howard baseball team never made it to Friday night’s 4A state championship game against Northwest at Ripken Stadium.
The same team that had a rally for the ages in a 4-3 semifinal win against Severna Park and averaged eight runs in its four playoff wins to make its first trip to the state championship game mustered just three hits and walked 11 batters in an 8-0 shutout defeat to the Jaguars.
It’s the second state championship for Northwest and first since beating Arundel in extra innings in 2012.
“A lot of us watched that game against Severna Park and it’s a good club they’ve got over there. We weren’t taking anything for granted,” said Jaguars coach Todd Varesco. “We knew they were going to play hard but all we said all year was we have to take it one at a time, one strike at a time and score some runs. ... We worked the counts and had quality at-bats and they walked in a few runs, so we’ll take it.”
Howard coach Nick Hoffner hoped his team would ride the momentum that carried them to Aberdeen. But in the end nothing went the Lions’ way, as they were shutout for the second time in 24 games.
Four Howard pitchers combined to allow six hits but the free passes were the downfall.
“We had some good practices the last couple of days, unfortunately we just didn’t pitch very well tonight,” he said. “They pitched better than us and at any level pitching wins championships and they were able to do that tonight.”
Northwest took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a fielders’ choice ground ball by Jalen Magbie-Hunter before things unraveled for Howard in the third. Lions starting pitcher Gabe Delgado walked the first two batters of the frame and five overall in his 12 batters faced, and Ryan Kulick came on in relief and walked the next batter to load the bases. He threw a wild pitch in the next at-bat to allow Mac Adelman to score and was yanked for Ryan Kearney.
But the lack of control proved contagious. Kearney threw two more wild pitches that both scored runs and a four-run lead was more than enough or Northwest starting pitcher Michael Yuille. He struck out eight, walked two and allowed two singles and no runs in six dominant innings.
“Their pitcher was just phenomenal tonight,” said Hoffner. “He was on and he just did a great job. ... He was throwing a good fastball, a good slider. He had both pitches working and his fastball was probably in the mid to upper 80s with that good slider. He was on tonight and if you’re going to be on ever this is the game be on.”
Howard’s only serious threat came in the top of the fourth, as Yuille gave up a single to Brendan Foster, a walk to Brian Jakubek and a single to Cam Robinson to load the bases with one out.
But if there was ever any doubt that it simply wasn’t the Lions’ night, it was soon clear. Craig Wiley flied out to right and Northwest right fielder Ryan Kennington made a perfect throw home to double up Foster to end the inning and keep the shutout in tact.
“We rallied there and I took a chance and sent [Brendan] and the kid in right field made a nice throw,” Hoffner said. “They made all the plays they needed to tonight.”
Northwest tacked on two more runs in the fifth inning on back-to-back doubles from Ryan Kennington and Yuille and then two more unearned runs in the sixth.
Yuille struck out four of his last six batters before Griffin Bubb closed the door in the seventh and ended the game with a strikeout looking.
“We had a great, great run to get to this point and we have a lot to be proud of what we did here in the playoffs,” said Hoffner. “This is our goal, to get here every single year, and we got here this year. It’s the first time we got to the state final and obviously our goal is to get back here and win it next year.”
Northwest (18-4) — 8, Howard (16-8) — 0
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