The backhanded play John Carroll third baseman Hunter Tipton made on a sharp grounder down the line was suited for the big leagues.
It came with the bases loaded, two outs and a full count in the top of the seventh inning as the Patriots were trying to hold off visiting Archbishop Spalding on a cold, blustery day in April.
After collecting himself, he put everything he had behind a throw that beat the runner by half a step. Making the play more impressive was that Tipton had entered the game in the fifth inning.
John Carroll beat Spalding that day, 5-3.
The season has been filled with special plays just like that one for the No. 2 Patriots, who take a 19-4 record into the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs Monday.
The team’s tradition after every home win — 11 so far — helps explain why.
The players head to right field and touch a black sign on the fence out there — a big, gold “25” is located in the middle of it. Above the number reads “HAMER” and written below is “2001-2017.”
All season, former teammate Josh Hamer has been in the Patriots’ thoughts after he died in a car accident on March 2, 2017, just days after he made last season’s varsity team as a sophomore pitcher.
Last season, the John Carroll players were mostly numb, trying to cope with the sudden loss of their teammate while managing to get through a 13-14 season.
This season, they are emotionally charged.
“It was really hard for a while and then we eventually turned it into momentum,” said Tipton, who was one of Hamer’s closest friends on the team. “This year, why we’re doing so well is we’re turning that — losing him — into momentum and going out and giving everything we have for him. It makes it easier. We definitely have a 10th man on the field. I think there’s times when he is looking over us.”
Like that big final play to beat Spalding?
“Yes, exactly,” Tipton said.
Hamer picked up a baseball soon after he began to walk. He started playing when he was 4 years old and found his passion for pitching when he was 9. At 15, he was 6 feet 3 and throwing a baseball upwards of 86 mph.
Whether it was in an early-morning art class, at practice or during a game, Tipton recalls Hamer was always full of energy with a lighthearted way about him that picked people up.
The Patriots are playing the same way this season. They opened with 16 straight wins and finished the regular season with an 11-1 record at home.
Senior third baseman Ryan Archibald is batting .500 with 27 RBIs and 16 runs scored in leading an offense that averages more than six runs per game. Senior pitcher Nick Collier is the staff ace with a 7-1 record and 1.59 ERA.
“The chemistry and success revolves around what the boys have gone through in losing their friend, Josh,” John Carroll coach Darrion Siler said. “They’ve all shown great character and courage in being there for each other. I can’t ask for a better group. We rely on each other, we pick each other up and we show the love and respect that teammates should. So we’re a very close-knit group, I think in part [because] of the tragedy that we’ve endured and it’s played a big part in it.”
And Hamer is with them all.
A flag with No. 25 flies high behind the backstop. The Patriots’ 16th consecutive win came at the second annual Josh Hamer Memorial Baseball Game at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen. Tyler Blittersdorf, a junior catcher and outfielder for the Patriots, was the first recipient of the Josh Hamer Memorial Scholarship.
“Josh is a big motivator for everybody and we work extra hard for him, thinking what he would be doing to try to help the team out,” catcher Stelio Stakias said.
Jen Hamer, Josh’s mother, has made it out to most of the home games, and is appreciative of how much the team has done for her and Josh’s legacy. She finds peace at the baseball field and said she feels Josh is there.
“Those boys at John Carroll are special,” she said. “It’s not just how good of baseball players they are, it’s how they’ve been able to overcome some pretty harsh realities that most teenagers don’t have to. It shows something so horrific can bring out amazing things and I think that’s what is happening with these kids and the baseball team. It’s amazing.”
The program hasn’t won a championship since 1995 and the Patriots are determined to win one this season. They want a title for each other, for the school and for Josh Hamer. After earning an opening-round bye as the second seed, they will host the winner of Friday’s game between Gilman and Calvert Hall on Monday.
“For them to be doing what they’re doing, I would like to think my angel above is helping a little bit,” Jen Hamer said. “Yeah, I would like to think that.”