Century’s baseball Twitter feed used the hash tag #unfinishedbusiness all season long, a motto that started at the end of last season when the Knights bowed out of the regional playoffs much earlier than they had planned.
They were fueled by a loss against Marriotts Ridge, and with a wealth of talent returning this spring they focused on the ultimate goal of ending the year with a state title.
It was business as usual for this squad Saturday evening at Ripken Stadium — backed by strong pitching and a clutch home run, Century defeated La Plata 4-1 to win the Class 2A state crown and earn the program’s first championship.
Carroll boasted seven state titles all-time since the state began its tournament in 1975. Now the county has an eighth, and its first in seven years. This championship came from a bunch of motivated players, said Zach Raico, a senior who wears his mullet hairstyle and mustache with pride.
“At the beginning of the year, I started growing the ‘stache,” Raico said. “We were like, ‘Hey, trust the ‘stache.’ It took us all the way to a championship and it got us the win.”
Raico’s facial hair may not have physically contributed, but his bat did — the left fielder launched a three-run home run over the fence in left to stake the Knights (20-3) to a 3-0 lead in the second inning.
Raico entered the title game batting .204, and coach Mike Marrale slotted him in the No. 9 spot. His first at-bat came with two runners on and two outs, and it almost ended with him popping out to finish the frame.
Raico lifted a ball down the first-base line toward the seats. La Plata first baseman Joey Binns raced for it with his back to the playing field, but overran the ball’s path and it landed behind him in foul territory.
Raico’s next swing was a three-run shot, to the delight of the Knights and their fans.
“I’m a team player. I love these guys,” Raico said. “Just killing it for everyone. We all did great.”
Jared Lamb singled to start the second inning, and Tyler Roach reached on an error before Raico’s long ball. The offense gave pitcher Jeremy Lapp a cushion, and Century’s ace took it from there.
Lapp held La Plata (20-6) hitless until the fourth, and he struck out five over six innings before fellow senior Ethan Kiple closed it out with two perfect innings (and three strikeouts) in relief.
“I just tried to call a great game and let my pitchers do what they do best,” said senior catcher Michael Marrale.
Marrale was asked how he thought Lapp and Kiple handled themselves on the big stage, but Raico had an answer before his catcher could respond.
“Studs,” Raico said.
Century had its share, particularly on offense. The Knights came into the state final with 38 homers and averaging 9.6 runs per game. Meanwhile, La Plata featured its own potent lineup — the Warriors had three games of 20 or more runs during the regular season, and had scored 35 runs in four playoff games before Saturday.
Lapp and Kiple quieted the Warriors’ bats, however.
“He did a great job as he always does,” Mike Marrale said of his starter. “And then, we were a little late getting Kiple warmed up. But then Ethan got in there, and he was bringing it another two or three miles an hour faster, I think, than Jeremy. I bet you he was hitting 90 [mph] right there.
“That has been the combo, right there, that has won a lot of big games for us.”
La Plata tried to rally in the third trailing by four and got two runners on with one out. David Hayes took a healthy lead out at second, and when Lapp fired a pitch to Michael Marrale he rose and fired to second for the quick tag.
The Warriors got to Lapp in the fourth. Austin Brown laced a single to right for his team’s first hit, and his pinch runner later scored on a single from Hayes. But Lapp stranded runners on the corners, and Century led 4-1.
La Plata left the bases loaded in the fifth in a big moment — Lapp fanned Brown, the Warrior’s No. 4 hitter, with one out before getting catcher Zach Harris on a hard-hit flyout to Raico in left.
Lapp and his teammates left the field to a loud ovation, and perhaps that’s when a state championship starting coming into vision to some of Century’s faithful.
But not the players and their coaches. Their view of this state title became clear more than a year ago.
“That Marriotts Ridge game last year really affected us, and we really wanted to get back,” Michael Marrale said.
Added Mike Marrale, his dad: “We starting lifting weights in September, and they’ve been focused since. Come March 1 when they started, they were ready to go.”
Century 031 000 0 — 4 7 1
La Plata 000 100 0 — 1 3 4
C-Jeremy Lapp, Ethan Kiple (6) and Michael Marrale; L-Ryan Calvert, Dean Kirby (7) and Zach Harris. 2B: C-Nathanael Hibbs, Kiple. HR: C-Zach Raico. WP: Lapp. LP: Calvert. SV: Kiple.