Mike Kelly knew he had a special team midway through the baseball season when his Loyola Blakefield players seized on his theme of overcoming adversity.
"I told them about the movie 'Heartbreak Ridge,' which is a movie about a group of misfit soldiers who band together," Kelly said. "One of the players told me that several of them were getting together on a Friday to watch the movie. The next day at practice, I asked all the kids who watched the movie to raise the hands. Every kid on the team raised their hand. We had kids on the team that lived in Pennsylvania and in Anne Arundel County. I knew right then we had something special."
Indeed, he did. After overcoming injuries and players being used out of position, the Dons, who ended up ranked No. 4 despite a 13-14 record, caught fire in the double-elimination Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs. They rallied to beat John Carroll in the first round, upset top-ranked Calvert Hall, then surprised second-ranked and defending-champion Archbishop Spalding to advance to the championship.
After falling 9-0 to Calvert Hall in the next game, the Dons rallied with seven runs in the top of the sixth to defeat the Cardinals, 8-3, and win the A Conference title. It was the school's first baseball championship since 1946.
"We had a really tight group," said Kelly, who took over the program this year after four seasons as an assistant. "The A Conference is a great league with some great teams, but I had a group of kids who believed in themselves. They made it happen, and it was an incredible run."