As the area’s No. 1-ranked baseball team with 25 wins in the regular season, Archbishop Curley showed it was capable of winning games all different ways.
In its Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoff opener against defending champion Loyola Blakefield, the top-seeded Friars used most of them to pull away for a 12-2 home win that was halted in the fifth inning.
Dominant pitching came from Paul Nixon, who allowed two runs on two hits while striking out 10 Dons. Curley manufactured two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning after Loyola tied the game at 2 in the top half.
Then came the bottom of the fifth, when the home team showed just how powerful its lineup was with eight runs to close out the win early.
The Friars (26-4) remain in the winners’ bracket in the double-elimination playoffs, set to host Gilman at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. The No. 13 Dons (14-10) return to action in the losers’ bracket Wednesday, set to play the winner of Tuesday’s game between No. 2 John Carroll and No. 15 Archbishop Spalding.
Curley showed resilience in the bottom of the fourth as it scratched across two runs with two singles — the second by Nick Brown on a hit-and run — followed by a fielder’s choice to score the go-ahead run and a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.
In the eight-run fifth inning, the Friars sent 12 batters to the plate, piling up seven hits with Nixon driving in the final two runs with his second double of the inning.
Brown and Tyler Locklear had two-run singles.
“In previous year, we may have fallen behind and gotten down on ourselves a little bit. But we’ve found ourselves in a hole a handful of times this season and immediately responded. We’ve done it all year and expected to do it again today,” Curley coach Brooks Norris said.
With Nixon going up against Loyola ace Matt Wyatt, a pitchers’ duel was expected and the two delivered early.
The Friars were aggressive at the plate early to push across single runs in the second and third. Catcher Trent Gast-Woodard (2-for-2, walk, three runs) ripped the first pitch in the bottom of the second for a double to left field and scored on a two-out infield error to make the score 1-0. With two outs in the third, center fielder Jalen March pounced on Wyatt’s first pitch for a home run over the right-center-field fence.
Nixon, who retired the first eight Dons, got into trouble in the top of the fourth when he hit two batters. After a double steal put both into scoring position, left fielder Chris McDonald hit a two-out, two-run single to tie the game at 2.
“I knew my hitters would come and back me up — they’ve been doing it all year, so I just stayed confident,” Nixon said.
He added that the Friars have come a long way in enjoying the fine season.
“I think it’s the maturity — we have 10 or 11 seniors,” he said. “We were a pretty young team the last couple years, so it took us awhile to come together and play together as a team. This year, we’re just putting it all together.”
Loyola coach Mike Kelly applauded Nixon’s effort and added that his Dons will be ready to play hard Wednesday with the season on the line.
“We thought it would be a pitchers’ duel early and it was, but their kid just pitched better, so you have to give him credit,” he said. “They have a really good team, they hit the ball well and that kid pitched a great game.”
LB 0 0 0 2 0 — 2 2 2
AC 0 1 1 2 8 — 12 11 0
Wyatt, Mumaw (5), Campbell (5) and E. Reynolds; Nixon and Gast-Woodard. 2B: AC—Gast-Woodard, Nixon 2. HR: AC—March.