FINKSBURG — Gerstell’s baseball team is likely going to go as far as its upperclassmen take it, and for this year’s Falcons that means steady contributions from a small crop of veterans and a good mix from a host of freshmen and sophomores.
Reece Early is the catalyst.
He’s approaching the final month of his high school career, and Early is doing his best to take it all in while he tries to guide Gerstell toward a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference championship.
The senior powered the Falcons past Friends School 6-3 on Thursday afternoon by pitching four solid innings and striking the biggest blow of the game with a two-run home run in the sixth. Gerstell had to rally for the win, which ran its record to 6-4 (6-4 MIAA B) and got the Falcons back on the winning track.
They won four in a row before absorbing a 19-3 loss to Boys’ Latin on Tuesday. And when Friends (5-8, 5-8) grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first inning, and led 3-1 in the fifth, the home team was facing another potential setback.
Early made sure it didn’t happen. He took the mound in the third inning and struck out nine during his outing while allowing two hits and giving up an unearned run. Early singled to lead off the fifth and later scored in the Falcons’ two-run inning that tied the score at 3-3. With one on and no outs in the sixth, Early crushed his two-run homer to deep left-center. stamped it with a mini-bat flip, and welcomed his teammates’ celebration around home plate.
Early finished with three hits, two RBIs, and two runs at the plate while picking up the win in relief.
“He came up as a freshman as a thrower,” Gerstell coach Cap Poklemba said about his ace. “He has always had the velocity. And he has really grown into a pitcher.”
Early came into the season with his share of accolades — a Times first-team all-county selection in 2018, a 2019 preseason all-state nod from the Maryland Baseball Coaches Association, and a commitment to attend the US Naval Academy to play baseball. Last spring he batted .435 with 10 doubles, four homers, and 24 RBIs, while collecting 60 strikeouts in 45 innings.
Early raised his batting average to .419 after Thursday’s performance, and pushed his strikeout total to 47 (in 24 innings). When Gerstell advanced into the B Conference last year, Early said he learned what he needed to work on the hard way.
“My first game … I was probably only throwing fastballs, no offspeed,” Early said. “And I got hit. They really showed me that I need to start throwing these offspeed pitches, these change-ups, curve balls, sliders. I started doing that and I started actually getting kids out.”
Early still relies on a fastball that can get into the low 90s on the radar gun, and Poklemba said Early’s slider is “nasty.” Friends seemed to realize the importance of runs once Early got on the mound — the Quakers got their third run on a squeeze bunt from Dan Musachio that allowed Wyatt Bordick to race in from third base.
But Early held them from there, and sophomore Graham Vaeth pitched a perfect seventh inning for the save.
Jeremiah Torrence had a double and two hits for Gerstell. Torrence was one of five freshman Poklemba played Thursday — four of them started — and that the coach is hoping the combination of young and old comes together at the right time this spring.
The Falcons didn’t have the regular season they wanted in 2018, but made a run to the B Conference semifinals and finished 12-11. With players such as Early, junior Chris Hagan, and senior Max Friedman back this year as team leaders, Poklemba said the expectations were higher for this season.
“It’s definitely looking a lot better than how we started last year,” Early said. “We need to continue to win the games that we need to win. Games like today, games like next week, and keep grinding.”
Friends 200 010 0 — 3 3 2
Gerstell 000 123 x — 6 7 4
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F-Zach Raynes, Dan Musachio (6), Luke Rollfinke (6), and Lukas Monaldi-Fisher; G-Tyler Stuck, Reece Early (3), Graham Vaeth (7), and Daniel Burns, Chris Hagan (3). 2B: G-Jeremiah Torrence. HR: G-Early. WP: Early. LP: Musachio. SV: Vaeth.