Several Middletown players tried to trick him with distractions, but coach Andy Baker could sense it coming. But instead of putting up a fight, he simply embraced the Gatorade bath more than four hours and 12 innings after first pitch Friday at Marriotts Ridge in the 2A West regional championship game.
“Actually, it felt pretty good,” Baker said after his team beat the Mustangs, 7-5, for their first regional title since 2010. “It was a long, hot day.”
Ryan Woelker, who started the day on the mound and allowed four runs in three-plus innings, re-entered the game in the top of the 12th and laced the go-ahead double to deep right-center field.
It all but ended a game that saw Middletown overcome a 4-0 deficit with four runs in the top of the sixth inning, a game-tying solo home run from Marriotts Ridge starting pitcher Gunnar Barnard in the eighth and a 40-minute lightning delay in the 11th.
“It was very nerve wracking for everybody. It was back and forth, we were down most of the game, came back and tied it. Both teams had chances but couldn’t do it. We took the lead, they hit a home run to tie it up, we have a delay,” Baker said. “It was just a lot of ups and downs. It was tough but you just keep grinding and grinding and grinding trying to stay mentally focused. It’s not easy for any of us.”
It’s the second straight year the Mustangs (19-4) have fallen in extra innings in the region final. Coach Paul Eckert couldn’t help but be proud of the way his team battled through the circumstances.
“I’m tremendously proud. I’m proud of everything they’ve given our school, given us,” he said. “I couldn’t ask more from a group of young men and that’s what you do it for.”
Marriotts Ridge missed on several opportunities early in the game. Hunter Reeling (2-for-5, run, double, walk) ripped the first pitch of the game from Woelker down the left-field line and ended up at third because of an error. But two batters later Reeling was thrown out at home on a ground ball to second base.
Nick Molinaro (2-for-5, RBI, run, stolen base) hit a one-out single in the second inning and reached third on a stolen base and an error, but again Marriotts Ridge couldn’t get on the board.
University of Maryland commit Gunnar Barnard struck out and walked four, and allowed five hits and two runs on 95 pitches in 5 1/3 innings for the Mustangs. He also gave the Mustangs a 1-0 lead in the third inning with a sacrifice fly to left.
They added three more runs in the fourth on a Molinaro single and two wild pitches by Middletown relief pitcher Matt Dillard that both scored runs. Dillard, however, buckled down and finished with six strikeouts, two walks and one earned run on seven hits in 7 2/3 innings.
Barnard tired out in the sixth and was replaced after giving up back-to-back doubles to Graham Brown and Connor Stevens that cut the deficit to 4-1. After an error put runners on first and second, Nick Madden drilled a 2-RBI triple into the right-center field gap, and Jacob House drove him in with an infield single two batters later to tie the game at 4.
House gave Middletown its first lead at 5-4 with a sacrifice fly to right in the eighth before Barnard smashed a lead-off homer to left over the ‘320’ sign in the bottom half of the frame to keep the Mustangs’ season alive.
“What a moment. That just lifted the whole team and you kind of thought in the last inning that somebody would do something like that but maybe not a home run,” Eckert said. “That doesn’t happen very often here. There are not very many home runs in this ballpark, let alone in the regional championship game to tie the game in extra innings. What a terrific moment for him and for our team.”
Woelkers doubled in Brown in the 12th and scored the seventh run on an errant pick-off attempt. Marriotts Ridge’s Reed Galloway started the bottom half of the inning with a walk, but a strikeout and a double-play ground ball ended the game and the Mustangs’ county-championship season.
“Their coach said on three occasions that nobody should have lost today, but I said certainly nobody is walking off a loser today,” Eckert said. “Our kids really battled. I’m just so proud of them and I don’t throw that word around easily.”
Middletown — 7, Marriotts Ridge (19-4) — 5 [12 innings]
123 456 789 012 R-H-E
Mi 000 004 010 002 7-11-3
MR 001 300 010 000 5-14-4
2B: MR — Hunter Reeling, Joey Fellona; Mi — Jack Sullivan, Graham Brown, Connor Stevens, Ryan Woelkers
3B: Mi — Nick Madden
HR: MR — Gunnar Barnard