River Hill and Reservoir entered Thursday No. 1 and 2 in Howard County in runs allowed this season. Both play outstanding defense and have top-notch pitching, and they have combined for 11 games in which they have allowed one run or less.
So it’s no surprise they also came in as the top two teams in the league, with the unbeaten Hawks leading the Gators by two games. But the race for the county championship got a lot more interesting Thursday, as Reservoir’s bats came alive and Patrick Alexander pitched a complete game to hand River Hill its first county loss, 8-1.
“We talked about finally being at home — we haven’t played at home in eight days. We’re excited to be here and we have a team coming in that’s on a roll, and I told them the pressure is on [River Hill]. We’ve got nothing to lose here,” said Gators coach Adam Leader. “The guys were really excited for today. I’m really proud of how they did.”
The Hawks (8-1 Howard County, 10-2 overall) also had the county’s best offense, averaging nine runs per game, and they had 10 batters in the first two innings but managed to score just one run. They left two runners on base in the first and second innings, and Alexander stole the momentum by picking off a runner at second base for the second out in the first and picked off another at third base for the final out in the second.
River Hill coach Wes McCoy said those plays, in addition to two errors in the first three innings that led to three unearned runs, were the difference until the Gators piled on with four runs in the sixth.
“They made some momentum-changing plays early on picking some runners off and they just outplayed us in all phases of the game. Not our best game,” he said. “It’s part of baseball. You’re going to have games where it happens. ... The errors get compounded when you’re not doing much at the plate. It’s really hard to win when you’re making errors and you only have four hits.”
Alexander settled in after the second inning. He retired nine of the next 10 batters and 12 of the last 14 overall on only 63 pitches, striking out six while allowing two hits. He struck out seven, walked three and allowed four hits and one earned run on 100 pitches.
“Patrick’s got so much heart. He’s really our cheerleader, our pump-up guy and the type of guy that’s all about the team,” said Leader. “... He was excited for this game and he’s a hard-nosed ball player and it’s what I wanted out of him today. He did a great job.”
The win was especially meaningful for Reservoir (8-2, 11-2) after it lost in walk-off fashion to Marriotts Ridge on Wednesday with Max Goron, the team’s ace, on the mound to end a 10-game winning streak. But Goron came through with his bat on Thursday, finishing 3-for-4 with two singles, a double and three RBI — one with each hit.
“Max has some good pop. When he hits the ball he can hit it sharp. He’s got those long arms and can reach out and grab it. He’s a good baseball player,” said Leader. “That’s why he’s in the No. 3 spot. We’re excited he’s there when he comes up in those situations. But I think up and down the lineup guys were on base and that’s what it’s all about, getting production from everybody.”
Reservoir’s first four runs were a result of some well-executed small ball. Kyle Fehr and Arush Gupta bunted Sam Gigioli over to third and an error allowed Kevin Harrington to drive him in with a sacrifice fly to right in the second inning. Cameron Hyder’s sacrifice bunt in the third inning led to an RBI double deep to right from Kyle Chu, and Goron followed with an RBI single to left to make it 3-1.
Goron drove in his second run of the game in the fifth inning after Chu put another runner in scoring position with a bunt.
The Gators piled on in the sixth and capitalized on the Hawks’ fourth error, as Hyder’s ground ball to second was thrown away and allowed two runners to score. Chu drove in his second run on a grounder to third and Goron’s RBI double to right chased River Hill starting pitcher Josh Mann, who went 5 2/3 innings with two strikeouts, three walks and eight runs allowed with three earned on 94 pitches.
“It was comprehensive. It wasn’t particular thing,” said McCoy. “Our defense didn’t defend well, Josh didn’t have his best stuff on the mound and they hit great — I don’t want to take anything away from them. But that’s how you lose 8-1.”
Reservoir (8-2 county, 11-2 overall) — 8, River Hill (8-1, 10-2) — 1
123 456 7 R-H-E
RH 010 000 0 1-4-4
Re 012 014 x 8-8-2
2B: Re — Chu, Goron; RH — Sterling
Long Reach (4-5, 5-6) — 4, Centennial (5-3, 5-4) — 3
123 456 7 R
C 000 002 1 3
LR 000 002 2 4
Long Reach junior catcher Sam Haley hit a bases-loaded single up the middle to score two in the bottom of the seventh inning to walk-off against Centennial. Sam Lobdell threw six innings and gave up one earned run for the Lightning.
St. John’s Catholic Prep — 15, Chapelgate (3-4 MIAA C, 3-4) — 3
Ryan Jordan pitched three innings and gave up eight runs while Chris Niccollini pitched two innings and allowed five for the Yellowjackets. Austen Johnson was 2-for-3 with an RBI and Dillon Story was 1-for-3 with a triple and an RBI.