Kenny DiBlasi had always been fairly successful in his four years as a coach with the Sykesville Cyclones (Navy) baseball team.
Over the past two years he was its head coach, and it played about .500 ball in the Mid-Atlantic Baseball Association (MABA). But this just-concluded fifth season was different. The Cyclones went from being so-so to so good.
They finished first in the league's 11-under Atlantic Division during the regular season and then came within a run of winning its postseason tournament.
Most of last year's team was back for this one; only two replacements were needed. DiBlasi and his assistant coaches Matt Baker and Mike Rallo were feeling upbeat about the kids' chances as the season dawned.
"I felt we'd be good this year. I had all the right players in place. We worked with the pitchers during the winter by hiring a pitching coach. We also hired a hitting and fielding coach," DiBlasi said.
The extra training paid off, and the team opened fast by winning nine of 12 games. While .750 ball is pretty awesome in any league, there was a flaw in that record. Two of those losses were to the South Western York Outlaws, the opponent that would make itself felt in the playoffs.
After their merely great start, the Cyclones turned somewhat supernatural. They won their last 10 games in a row to finish 19-3, a game ahead of the second place WHC Renegades (Red).
The Cyclones also tested their talents in other venues during the season, playing in five tournaments. While they didn't win any, the Sykesville kids made the semifinals in four of the five.
One finish in particular stood out for their head coach. It was in a late-April Cal Ripken tournament in Aberdeen against a lot of out-of-state teams.
"We did well against teams from places like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York before we got it handed to us by a team from Virginia," DiBlasi said. "But we went 3-1, and that tournament gave our players a lot of confidence."
He feels that this confidence boost had a lot to do with the team's outstanding regular-season record.
Overall, the Cyclones would play to a cumulative 32-12 record this season.
With the league's best record, things looked good for Sykesville two weekends ago as it began play in the Atlantic Division's postseason tournament at Howard County's Western Regional Park.
However it was almost derailed in game one when it had to rally in order to beat LBC Thunder which had won only twice during the season.
The Cyclones trailed 7-4 in the top of the fifth inning when Aiden Bird hit a grand slam to put his team ahead for good. Sykesville won 9-7.
Dominic DiBlasi also homered in that contest.
Jack Davidson's strong pitching highlighted Game 2, which went to Sykesville 6-2. The youngster pitched four scoreless innings, allowed only one hit and striking out five. Danny Dorsey helped out by going 2-for-2.
Sykesville scored eight runs in the second inning to out-slug the West Howard Renegades 10-7 in the third playoff game.
Luke Rallo had a two-run single in the big inning; he was 3-for-3 in the game and scored two runs. Cole Renehan was also 3-for-3 with a run and two RBIs.
Gene Magin went 2-for-2 with a walk and run scored.
Game 4 was even wilder, and the Cyclones prevailed 15-11 over the Howard County Youth Baseball (HYCP) team. The winners had another big second inning, scoring nine runs in that frame. Dorsey drove in four runs and scored two. Davidson was 2-for-3, scoring three runs and plating two.
Landon Baker went 2-for-3 for Sykesville.
That brought up South Western York, which had beaten Sykesville in two of three regular season games. The Outlaws had lost once in the tournament and had to beat Sykesville to force a championship game.
It did exactly that with a 4-3 verdict. Sykesville put two on with one out in the final inning but failed to get the key hit.
Parker Pearre was 2-for-2 with an RBI for the Cyclones.
The Cyclones hit well in the early innings of the final game and led 5-3 after four innings. York though, rallied with two runs in the bottom of the fifth to tie it 5-5. The game went to extra innings and the Outlaws won it, 6-5,with a run in the seventh.
Sykesville's Alexander Raihl was 2-for-2 with two runs and an RBI. Teammate Luke Sudo went 1-for-1 with two RBIs before an injury forced him from the game.
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"We just ran out of pitching," DiBlasi said.
But he added that other things accounted for his team's failure.
"We had five errors and made too many baserunning mistakes in that last game," DiBlasi said. "We had guys on base the last two innings but couldn't score. Once we had runners on second and third. The batter lined to the pitcher and he doubled off a runner.
"We felt this was a tournament we could have won, but we were happy we made it this far. I was proud of the way the boys played all weekend."
He plans to come back next year to coach the team which will play in the MABA 12-under division. The team will need two new players next season, and DiBlasi is looking for candidates to try out for his team come August.