Hereford falls to La Plata in classic pitchers duel in state semifinal

La Plata pitchers Dean Kirby and Ryan Calvert blanked Hereford on five hits as the Warriors (19-5) defeated the Bulls (13-8), 1-0, in the Class 2A state baseball semifinal at Montgomery Blair High.

Hereford pitcher Aaron Winsker yielded one unearned run and six hits in six innings and Connor Mann had two hits for the Bulls.

Alex Borges doubled leading off the bottom of the fifth and pinch runner Jake Gleason scored with two outs when Kirby reached on an error after a hard one-hopper off the chest of second baseman Mann.

La Plata coach John Childers ruled it an error, but was happy for the result.

“I’m a tough scorer,” Childers said. “He hit it hard, it was a good at bat.”

Kirby was just excited to get the first run of the game home.

“I felt like I barreled it up for sure, sometimes, you hit it right at people, but that time it happened to be a little to his left and he didn’t get the best hop, so it works for us and it’s enough to win the game, that’s all that matters,” Kirby said. “The goal there is to keep it hard on the ground or on a line, you are not trying to get an easy out, strikeout is an easy out, pop out is an easy out, you’ve got to make it hard on them and that was my goal.”

Hereford coach Rick Evans didn’t have any problems with the play.

“It was a tough play,” Evans said. “He’s an all-star for us, an All-County player, so he’s used to that kind of stuff and that is just one that got away. He was hitting the ball for us, so I have zero complaints about his game.”

Hereford’s defense is what kept them in the game.

In the bottom of the second inning, Austin Brown led off and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Zach Harris.

Brown was thrown out at third by shortstop Jimmy Kells for the second out.

The next batter, Tyler Moody, drilled a double down the left field line that went all the way to the wall. Left fielder Nate Gernand relayed to Kells and he fired to catcher Drew Kinsey for the tag on Michael Gill.

“Defense played really well today,” Evans said.

Winsker, who came into the game with a 7-1 record and 2.47 earned run average, also pitched well.

In the third inning, the Warriors first two batters reached on a single and error.

Leadoff hitter Kirby bunted to Winsker for a force out at third base and Winsker fanned Chet Bowling and Calvert to end the threat.

“Their pitcher moved the ball around the zone, he worked with the zone he was given, they made all the plays behind him, that’s a good baseball team,” Childers said.

Bowling came into the game batting .429 and Calvert led the team in average (.470), home runs (five), RBIs (38), hits (31) and runs (24).

Calvert was also an ace on the mound with a 7-1 record and 0.39 earned run average. He had 104 strikeouts and allowed only 20 hits in 53 2/3 innings.

“They (La Plata) are a powerhouse, top to bottom they can all hit and we respected that and we were just trying to keep them off-balanced as much as we could,” Evans said. “We know how they have been dominating through the playoffs, so we tried to attack them in the fourth inning when we got two runners on, but couldn’t advance them.”

Cole Fennell had a one-out hit and stole second, but Kirby fanned two of the next three hitters to end the threat.

Kirby was 8-1 with a 1.07 earned run average.

La Plata had blanked its three previous opponents in the regional tournament by a combined scored of 31-0.

The 16-0 triumph over Wilde Lake, in five innings in the regional championship game, allowed the Warriors to have both their top pitchers available.

“We knew that we lucked out on Friday, we were able to close a game out early, so they were both available today,” Childers said. “We hoped to go with Dean the whole distance, so we didn’t give them a chance to look at Ryan to get a little scouting report, but you are in a 1-0 game, you’ve got to bring him in.”

Kirby had no trouble moving to shortstop when Calvert relieved him.

“The plan is to have both of us ready for Saturday, he’s our one and I’m our two, so I was near the pitch limit,” Kirby said. “I threw 63 and you can only throw 74 to be eligible for Saturday and everybody is comfortable with having him on the mound, so you put him in to let him do his thing because he’s one of the best in the state, so why not let him finish the game out for us.”

Evans had no problem sticking with Winsker the whole way.

“He’s been our ace all year long, he’s just done a fantastic job out there,” said Evans, noting he will play at Stockton University, N.J. next year. “They recruited him as a middle infielder and I think now they know he can pitch.”

Hereford had reached the state semifinals for the second year in a row after beating Eastern Tech, 3-1, New Town, 11-1, and Gwynn Park, 2-0.

The win over Gwynn Park came in extra innings when Hunter Patrick hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning.

That was the seventh win in a row for the Bulls.

“We struggled early and then we hit a winning streak, just like these guys did and followed up on it, getting into the playoffs and making that run again,” Evans said.

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