If you've read this column at any point over the last seven high school baseball seasons, you'd know that, maybe more than anything else in the sports universe, I enjoy a well-pitched ballgame.
I used to start off my preseason wish lists with requests for local pitchers to throw a perfect game (which North Harford's Kevin Mooney did in the 2012 3A state semifinals against North Hagerstown, and so I stopped including that particular item on those wish lists, lest I anger the baseball gods with my greed). Some people think 1-0 games are boring. I'm not one of them. It's that simple.
If you need evidence that Saturday's 3A championship matchup at Ripken Stadium was my kind of game, I'll offer this: The start time was 7 p.m., and I had finished my post-game interviews, written my entire story and was on the road driving away from Ripken Stadium by 9:30 p.m. North Harford had two hits, Reservoir had four hits, and the latter walked away with a 2-0 victory.
I won't say it was the best-pitched game I've ever covered, as that title will stay with the aforementioned perfect game Mooney threw two years ago, but Reservoir's Cody Morris was as dominant on the mound as you can get without throwing a no-hitter. The funny thing was, Morris, who's only a junior, lost his bid for a no-hitter at the very beginning of the game, allowing a leadoff single to Luke Johnson in the top of the first. Morris, however, would allow only three more North Harford hitters to reach base over the next seven innings, one on a single and two on walks.
Looking at it from my perch in the press booth, I assumed Johnson's leadoff single was a very good sign for the Hawks. North Harford skipper Tim Larrimore, who's been running that program for 24 seasons now, told me after the Hawks' state semifinal win that he thought this year's team had a better lineup, top to bottom, than any of his previous clubs. I looked at Morris' stats on the MPSSAA printout they hand to reporters at the press table, and though his 7-1 record and sub-1.00 ERA were mighty impressive, I've seen pitchers with similar numbers get picked apart in the state tournament. You're playing an unfamiliar team and you're throwing a little harder than normal because you're really gassed up, then the first hitter gets a single and everything blows up. That's obviously not what happened Saturday night. Morris was throwing around 90 mph with a lot of movement, and the Hawks just couldn't do anything with his fastball. It's harder to tell at the high school level, where the change in velocity between different pitches isn't as pronounced as at the professional level, but I doubt Morris threw three breaking balls all night. His heater was good enough on its own. Look for that young man to get picked up in the early rounds of next year's MLB draft.
Then you had North Harford pitcher Brian Shaffer, who came into the game with an 8-1 record, and tossed a four-hitter, which would be good enough most other nights to earn the Hawks a victory. As I said earlier, I figured North Harford's bats were going to come alive at some point during this game, and that with Shaffer on the mound, we'd see the Hawks hoisting their first state championship plaque after the game.
As always, I was pulling for the Harford County team in the final, if for no other reason than a Hawks' victory would give me a much better story to write. But, the fact that North Harford got to the finals is just another indicator of the level of play we see every year in the UCBAC. Saturday marked the seventh time I've been to Ripken Stadium to cover a state title game, and it was the third straight appearance by a Harford County team in the 3A championship. Those are pretty good numbers.
And it was a well-pitched ballgame, which I love.