Mt. Hebron senior Mark Smith threw one of the finest games of his high school career in Saturday night's 3A state championship game at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen. But it just so happened that the pitcher he went up against — Chopticon senior Ljay Newsome — had the performance of a lifetime.
Led by Newsome's complete-game, one-hitter with 17 strikeouts, the Braves won their first state baseball championship, 1-0, on a Nick Gray triple and a walkoff sacrifice fly by Zachary Jerew in the bottom of the seventh.
"Both pitchers were outstanding," Chopticon coach Ray Sapp said. "We just got lucky and hit a gap at the right time ... (Newsome) is the kind of kid who wants the ball in the big games and there was none any bigger than today."
Newsome did not allow a Mt. Hebron runner to reach base until a bloop single to left by sophomore Jack Schroeder with two outs in the fourth. Newsome hit the next batter, senior first baseman Matt Ansaldi, on his next pitch, but then struck out five in a row.
"We were prepping this whole week to see 90-plus, because that's what he had," said Schroeder, the Vikings' No. 3 hitter. "He kept us off balance ... it was hard to square up."
In the top of the sixth, Mt. Hebron put the ball in play on three consecutive at-bats — on an error, a fielder's choice and a pop out — but Newsome (106 pitches, 17 K, 0 BB, 1 HBP, 1 H) beared down and struck out the heart of the Vikings lineup in order in the seventh.
"I was just trying to throw strikes, and trying to throw gas," Newsome said. "This was one of my best games ... there were no nerves."
On the other side of the diamond, Smith (105 pitches, 7 K, 3 BB, 1 HBP, 2 H) was nearly as impressive through the first five innings.
Newsome reached on a two-base error to lead off the second, but courtesy runner Brent Sherman was stranded at third after a strikeout, grounder to third and a fly-out to right. Smith allowed only two walks over the next three innings, but ran into trouble in the sixth when he walked leadoff man Jacob Wood, allowed a CJ Hill single to left field that broke up the no-hitter, and hit catcher Robbie Kidwell to load the bases with no outs.
Smith, the Howard County Pitcher of the Year who will pitch for Towson University next year, came away unscathed, though, after shortstop Alfonso Rivas fielded a sharp grounder and fired home for a force out, center fielder Jake Snyder made a catch and threw a strike to the plate to freeze the runner at third, and a grounder to Rivas ended the inning.
"I knew that my team would have my back. They've had my back all year and I felt comfortable throwing to the bat. They put it in play and our guys made the plays behind me," Smith said. "I have complete trust in them."
In the bottom of the seventh, though, Gray led off by driving a ball all the way to the wall in deep center field, where no Viking could get a glove on it.
"I got ahead in the count (3-1) and I was sitting fast ball down the plate. He was dominant all game but he slipped up on that pitch. He threw really well, but I saw the ball jump off the bat and saw that it was high and knew that I had to run," Gray said. "Once I got to third I was pumped. I knew we had won the state championship."
The game was Mt. Hebron's first state championship appearance since 1980.
"We were hoping to just get through the last inning and see what we could come up with," Mt. Hebron coach Brian Culley said. "We didn't stop playing until the last out so I've got nothing but pride for these kids. I told them that I've always wanted to coach a state championship team, but I wouldn't trade the opportunity to coach these guys for five state championships."
MH (19-4) 000 000 0 - 0 1 1
Ch (20-1) 000 000 1 - 1 2 1
Smith and Broache. Newsome and Kidwell.
3B: Ch — Gray.