It took the Indian Creek Eagles baseball team nine innings Tuesday to lock up its first Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference championship.
The Eagles came from behind multiple times to beat St. Paul’s, 9-8, using a walk-off RBI single from sophomore Riley Handwerger (2-for-5, two RBIs) to get it done at the Harford Sports Complex at Harford Community College.
“I was just going through my mind, I needed to hit that ball,” Handwerger said. “I was pretty hot during the postseason, but I saw that fastball and I took that. Took it down the line and I gave our guy a chance to go home.”
The chance was created when Patrick Smith reached base on an error leading off the bottom of the ninth.
Ben Bucci put down a sacrifice bunt, moving Smith to second and setting up Handwerger’s big hit.
The game-winner wasn’t the only big hit for Handwerger. With his team trailing, 8-5, in the sixth, Handwerger started the comeback. The shortstop turned an Alex Cromwell fastball around for the game’s only home run.
The blast to left hit off the top of the wall and went over for a solo shot.
“I was late in the count, I was just trying to fight, saw a fastball, I got to take it,” Handwerger said. “Kind of golfed that thing, I didn’t think it was gone until I hit second base, then I knew it was gone.”
St. Paul’s took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on Cam Nelson’s RBI triple. Indian Creek, though, answered in the bottom of the inning with three runs off Nelson with two outs.
Nelson, who escaped a bases-loaded situation in the first, wasn’t as fortunate in the third. A pair of walks with a single between set the table for Chris Kokoski, one of two Indian Creek seniors. Kokoski (2-for-3) doubled in two runs to end Nelson’s mound work. A third scored on a wild pitch from Cromwell. Another run also scored from second on the play, but it was reversed due to the ball contacting a batting weight sleeve.
St. Paul’s pulled even in the next half inning as Charles Konkolics and Timmy Wilcox both drove in runs.
The Crusaders went back ahead with two more runs in the fifth. Indian Creek starting pitcher Logan Frazier walked John Padousis with one out and it was his last batter. Julian Butler came on in relief and induced a potential double-play grounder, but it was booted. Butler hit the next batter to load the bases and his night was done after two batters.
Jacob Cresanto came on and got Wilcox to hit an RBI fielder’s choice. On the play, the ball was thrown away high at first, allowing the second run to score for a 5-3, St. Paul’s lead.
But, back came the Eagles in the bottom of the fifth. They loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter, but a pair of grounders to third baseman Konkolics resulted in two force outs at the plate.
Cromwell needed one more out, but Smith had other ideas and with a line drive to left, tying the game at 5.
In the sixth, St. Paul’s went ahead again on Hayden Hair’s bases-loaded and bases-clearing, three-run double.
Handwerger’s home run pulled the Eagles within two, 8-6, as they came to bat in the seventh. Andrew Harris opened the inning with a double and Cromwell hit the next batter, Kokoski.
Matthew Meek came onto replace Cromwell and the first batter he faced, Butler, singled in Harris.
Meek struck out the next batter and Bucci followed with a grounder to third which resulted in Kokoski getting tagged out at the plate for the second out, but putting Butler at third.
Handwerger stepped in and hit a one-hopper right back to Meek for seemingly the final out. Meek snagged the ball, took a few steps toward first and then sent an underhand toss toward first. The ball landed short and bounced away as an error, allowing Butler to score the tying run.
“We really felt like at no point were we out of the game, until that ground ball went to the pitcher and I thought the game was over,” Indian Creek manager Matt Selmer said. “In the end, somebody’s got to win. It’s a shame, because St. Paul’s, well-coached. I’ve grown to respect them more than I did before, going through these couple games with them.”
Rarely used Eagles sophomore reliever Xavier Quigley threw three innings of one-hit shutout baseball for the win.
“I had butterflies at the beginning of the game, but right as I went over to that pen, I was like, it’s straight business,” Quigley said.
Nelson finished 3-for-6 to lead St. Paul’s, while Konkolics went 2-for-4.
“These guys have fought all year, we’ve faced so much adversity and it’s tough, definitely a tough pill to swallow,” Crusaders manager Dave Miele said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the development and growth, the way these guys meshed together. Relationships we’ve built, that stuff is never going to leave us and that’s the biggest thing that we instill here at St. Paul’s ... our focus, our attitude, our effort and I’m proud of those things today.”