The Bel Air baseball team once again — as it has done throughout the season — cut it close but found a way to win Saturday at Ripken Stadium in the Class 3A state championship.
The Bobcats beat La Plata from Charles County, 3-2, to win the second state title in school history.
"This is just phenomenal," Bel Air coach John Swanson said. "La Plata definitely came out to play. It was back and forth, and we made a couple of key plays. It could have gone either way."
Three defensive miscues for La Plata in the top of the second led to a run for Bel Air in the top of the second inning.
The Bobcats' Richard Rivera reached on a throwing error to lead off the inning. After Matt Hottman hit a single up the middle, La Plata's center fielder overthrew the cutoff man and the ball bounced away from the catcher, allowing Rivera to score the first run of the game.
"It's been our M.O. all year to put pressure on the defense," Swanson said. "We were able to do that today. We missed a few plays here and there, but we battled. We battled all year, day in and day out. This is just a great group of young men. I'm speechless."
Bel Air starting pitcher Ben Webber, who allowed one hit in four innings, worked out of a jam in the bottom of the second. With a man on second base and no outs, Webber retired the final three batters to end the inning.
"I just wanted to throw the ball over the plate, get strikes," Webber said. "When I kept it down, they were hitting ground balls. Our defense is amazing, so I wanted to get [La Plata] swinging the bats."
The Bobcats capitalized on shaky defense from the Warriors in the top of the fifth inning.
After J.D. Bruck reached on a fielding error, Tyler Norcross hit a bouncer toward first base that was misplayed. Bruck scored as the ball went into right field, and Rivera added a sacrifice fly to give Bel Air a 3-0 lead.
Norcross relieved Webber in the fifth inning. In the sixth, La Plata scored two runs to close within one run.
With runners on the corners and one out, Norcross escaped with an inning-ending double play as first baseman Hottman caught a line drive, then quickly stepped on first to double up the runner.
"That was amazing, the play of the game right there," Norcross said. "I thought it was going through, but Matt caught it, and I saw that the runner was off first base."
In the bottom of the seventh, Norcross retired the side in order on a strike out and two fly balls.
"Tyler has done that all year," Swanson said. "He's just another kind of athlete. He knows where to go and where he needs to be. It's a pleasure to watch him play."
The Bobcats' only other state championship came in 1996.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun