Severna Park’s impressive run of postseason shutout innings on the mound came to an end during Tuesday’s Class 4A state quarterfinal contest with visiting Howard, but not its hopes for a state title.
The Falcons surrendered their first three runs of the postseason as they blanked Broadneck and Leonardtown en route to the 4A East Region II title.
Three runs by the No. 8 seed Lions in the top of the fifth brought that scoreless streak to an abrupt end but two runs in the bottom of the fifth then three more in the sixth gave top-seeded Severna Park an 8-3 state quarterfinal win and the ability to play host to Wednesday’s state semifinals.
The Falcons will host either No. 4 seed Laurel or fifth seeded Eleanor Roosevelt for a shot to reach the championship game.
“It was a little nerve-racking for a minute,” said Falcons first baseman Luke Herz, who single twice, drove in a run and walked twice. “But after Andrew [Bashir’s] double, I knew we had it.”
The loss ended Howard’s season at 9-6 as well as its run of postseason victories against Anne Arundel County teams as the Lions upended Glen Burnie, North County and Arundel to win the 4A East Region I title.
“We put on a great run,” Howard coach Jason Grebe said. “I couldn’t be more proud of how we played and the grit that we showed. We always found ways to stay in games and keep them close.”
This contest remained close as well until three runs in the bottom of the fifth on a two-run home run by Daniel Key and a sacrifice fly by James Henson gave the Falcons the final five-run lead that held up behind the pitching of lefty Michael Bowles. He went the distance in the victory, striking out four and scattering eight hits on 103 pitches.
“I always have confidence we can put up runs,” Bowles said. “I know we can hit. I just had to get back in a groove [after the fifth] and throw strikes.”
The Falcons soared to a 1-0 lead on a run-scoring single by Herz in the bottom of the first. Jackson Merrill drew a walk, stole second and reached third on a sacrifice bunt by Tucker McDonough before scoring on Herz’s single down the left-field line.
Herz struck again with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second. He drove in Robert Weaver with an infield single in the hole at shortstop, and those free passes included an intentional walk to Merrill with two on but first base open.
Howard pitcher Van Switzer limited the damage by forcing Key to ground into a fielder’s choice to strand a trio of runners.
After being pitched around in his first two at-bats, Merrill, a possible pick in next month’s MLB Draft, blasted a home run to dead center and then some for 3-0 Falcons advantage in the fourth. It appeared that Merrill was being pitched around again, but the 3-0 pitch caught too much of the plate.
Howard finally broke through Severna Park’s vaunted pitching staff on a groundout by Ben Fader with the bases loaded on two bunts base-hits and a single in the top of the fifth.
Jake Keller followed with a run-scoring groundout of his own to further trim the deficit to 3-2 before catcher Daniel Kim tied the score at 3-3 on a bloop single to left field.
The Falcons came right back in the bottom half of the inning, reaching Howard reliever Fader for a pair of runs. It started with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Merrill to right field and ending with Weaver scoring on a double-steal rundown with James Henson for a 5-3 lead after five innings.
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“Our one goal all season was to make states,” Herz said. “We have one more stop. Whoever we go against is going to be a tough game.”