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The Westminster Vipers under-16 baseball team is competing for a Mid-Atlantic Baseball Association championship.
The Westminster Vipers under-16 baseball team is competing for a Mid-Atlantic Baseball Association championship. (Courtesy photo)

Westminster Vipers manager Erin Brilhart doesn't get worked up about the pool play phase when he enters baseball tournaments. He feels that, as long as his kids do well enough in these preliminary games to make it to the championship bracket, his team has accomplished his mission.

Even when it loses them all.

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So, when his 16-under squad lost all three of its pool games in the Howard County Youth Program Summer Clash baseball tournament two weekends ago, but still made it to the championship phase, he was reasonably content.

He was even happier when his Vipers went on to win the thing.

One of the team’s goals this year was to win a tournament, and it accomplished that goal when it beat Baltimore’s Blue Crabs in the Summer Clash’s age 15/16-under Silver Division championship game July 7.

The Vipers’ other goal this season is to win their Mid-Atlantic Baseball Association division’s championship. However, the jury is out on that one.

Most of the team has been together since 2015 when it began play as a 12-under squad. There were only two new players this season, and Brilhart felt his roster continuity ensured that it would have a good year. That continuity exists despite the fact that the players come from different locations.They also attend a variety of schools, including Westminster, Liberty, and Francis Scott Key, along with private institutions.

This spring, Westminster started out something like a bat out of Hades by winning its first nine MABA games and 13 of its first 14.

″Our continuity was going good. Most had played high school varsity baseball, and they were pretty well tuned up to get off to a hot start," Brilhart said.

The Vipers had few weaknesses on the field.

“They were pitching well, and they hit right away. We scored a lot of runs," Brilhart said. “Our defense was our biggest asset. We had a lot of DP’s, played well together and had a very solid defense.”

Holding opponents down would become a key component of the team’s success.

But toward the end of their MABA season, injuries and a batting slump took their toll. The Vipers went only 3-3 in their final six MABA regular season games to bring their record to 16-4 in the MABA’s 16-under Atlantic Division.

Several regular-season games remained, but they have been postponed because of weather, and Brilhart said it is unlikely they’ll be made up.

Anyhow, the league is in its postseason now.

Brilhart blamed his team’s late-season slowdown on several things, including injuries and vacations. One telling injury came to center fielder Scotty Vaughn, who was hurt in mid-June and has not played since.

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Then, things then really went south when the HCYP tournament opened July 5 in Columbia. The Vipers scored only nine runs in losing all three of their pool play games. These are played primarily to establish seeds for a tournament’s championship bracket.

The Blue Crabs mauled them 9-2 in the opener. The Vipers came closer in game two, but their late rally failed, and they fell to Gaels’ Select 7-5.

Justin Hyde was 3-for-3 in that game with two RBIs, and Bryce Samson went 2-for-3 with an RBI. Samson pitched well against the Water Dogs in Game 3 and kept his team in the hunt. But the hitting failed in its 3-1 loss.

While 0-3 in pool play, the team’s defense and pitching had held opponents down. The run differential against it was better than two other entrants in the 14-team field. The Vipers thus made it into the 12-team championship round as the 12th- seeded team.

Their coach felt that was good enough.

“I’ve coached youth baseball long enough to know that pool play doesn’t matter," Brilhart said. “All you have to do is win enough to get into the next bracket, and if you do that, all is good.”

They had made it into the next bracket and all would indeed be good.

On July 6, The Vipers blanked HCYP Black 4-0 in their first championship round game. Brody Brilhart allowed only two hits in pitching seven shutout innings. Noah Pugliese went 3-for-4 with an RBI.

Westminster then demolished the Patriots 15-1, scoring nine runs in the sixth inning to blow the game open. Tanner Perkes pitched five strong innings and allowed only the one run. Griffin Stevenson went 3-for-5 with two RBIs, and Justin Hyde was 2-for-4 with two driven in. Justin Keeney was 1-for-2, walked twice and drove in two runs.

Samson had two triples and three RBIs, and Brilhart was 3-for-4 with two RBIs.

The semifinal was a rematch against Gaels’ Select, but the outcome was different than in Game 2. The Vipers broke open a close 4-2 game with 10 fourth-inning runs and walloped Gaels’ Select 14-2.

Winning pitcher Maxcy pitched the shortened four-inning contest, and also went 1-for-2 with an RBI. Travis Williams went 2-for-3 with two RBIs.

Several guest players filled in for missing starters at various points in the tournament.

James George and Kevin Hyde did well in right field and at catcher, respectively, although neither batted. David Miller caught the final four games for Westminster, getting several hits and settling down the pitching staff.

The hurlers were extremely effective in those four contests. They allowed only eight runs, total.

Five of those opponents’ runs came in the championship game, but they weren’t nearly enough. The Vipers broke it open with four seventh inning runs and hammered the Blue Crabs 11-5.

Samson, Maxcy, and Brilhart shared the mound duties in the game. Maxcy was also 2-for-4 with two RBI, and Justin Hyde was 1-for-2 with three driven in. While Erin Brilhart said it was great to win the tournament title, he added that the effort wore down his pitching staff.

This past Tuesday night, the Vipers opened their MABA playoffs, and the wear showed. In fact, the whole team may have let down. In that opening MABA championship tournament game, HCYP White smacked Westminster 7-2, knocking the local team into the consolation bracket.

So, the Vipers find themselves in a familiar spot, living on the edge and on the verge of elimination.

Can they repeat their comeback of the Summer Clash tournament? Brilhart believes they can, and he feels the pitching will be OK. However, he says the hitting and fielding, in particular, have to improve.

And what’s more, Brilhart said, “we can’t lose another game.”

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