The margin of error is smaller in playoff baseball.
Sometimes, you only get one or two chances to score.
After a marvelous postseason run, Atholton squandered its best opportunities at the plate in the first and seventh innings, losing 4-2 to Chopticon in the MPSSAA Class 3A championship on Friday.
“You know you’re going to be in tight ballgames in a playoff run. We just came up a little bit short in this one offensively,” said Atholton coach Scott Peddicord. “But I’m incredibly proud of our guys. They fought all the way to the end. This was a tremendous run.”
No. 6 Atholton (12-4) was handed two runs in the top of the first after Braves starter Shawn Cameron allowed the first five batters to reach base, walking in two runs. But reliever Shane Smith, who entered with no outs and the bases loaded in the first, struck out three straight batters to escape the early trouble.
Smith went the distance without allowing a run for No. 4 Chopticon (13-1), including a seventh-inning escape of a bases-loaded, one-out jam to clinch the victory. The senior righty scattered five hits in his seven scoreless frames, striking out seven without walking a batter.
“We’ve been playing with or against each other since we were 4 or 5 years old. To go out with a bang like this, it’s awesome,” Smith said
The state title is the second for the Chopticon baseball program. The first was a 1-0 win over Mt. Hebron in 2015.
After losing the first game of the season to Patuxent, the Braves from St. Mary’s County won 13 straight games, outscoring their opponents 148-41 on the season. They defeated No. 1 Centennial 2-0 on Wednesday to advance to the big stage.
“This was a total team effort,” said Chopticon coach Ray Sapp. “You can’t ask for anything more than this. Everybody did their part.”
Diego Carrion and Liam Snow led off the game at the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs’ Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf with walks. Catcher Tony D’Angeli then singled to load the bases, and Jason Drucker and Devin Hollingsworth followed with RBI walks against Cameron, who struggled with his control and was pulled without recording an out.
Smith, the Braves’ top reliever, entered and changed the pace, pumping the strike zone and throwing his breaking ball in any count. After he struck out the three batters to end the threat in the first, he retired 15 of the next 18 batters he faced without allowing more than one runner on in any inning.
“He mixed his stuff up,” Peddicord said. “You have to tip your cap to that kid. He did his thing. He made us hit him, but we couldn’t figure him out until the seventh inning there.”
It didn’t take long for the Braves’ comeback. Phillip McCarthy and Tyler Quade led off the bottom of the first with singles off Atholton starter Liam Snow. McCarthy then scored on a double play, and Demetrius Jamison’s two-out triple to right field scored Jordan Faunce and tied the score at 2-2.
Chopticon smacked three more hits off Snow in the second. Howard Miller hit a leadoff single and got to third on a Blake Adkins double. Brandon Mills then singled home Miller for what ended up being the game-winning RBI.
“Once we put a number on the board, I knew we’d be alright,” Smith said. “...No matter how many runs are scored on us, we’re a team that can fight through it all and come back no matter what the score is.”
Snow found his stuff after the early struggles, though, striking out the next two batters to escape the jam. The junior righty retired eight of the next 10 batters before getting tired and giving free passes to the final three Braves he faced in the fifth, the last with the bases loaded to push the score to 4-2. Snow ended his day allowing four earned runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings, striking out four and walking four.
Carrion relieved Snow, getting a first-pitch fly out to end the threat in the fifth and then retiring the side in order in the sixth.
After stranding a leadoff double in the sixth, Atholton’s best chance to score since the first inning was in its final trip to the plate. Dustin Eidson and Carrion led off the inning with singles, but a sacrifice bunt attempt was popped up and ruined an opportunity to get two runners in scoring position.
D’Angeli (3 for 4) singled to load the bases, but Smith got two fly outs to center field to end the game.
Despite the loss, Peddicord commended his senior class for their leadership during a season in which the Raiders went 8-3 in county play and won four close playoff games.
“They are tremendous kids,” Peddicord said. “They were so great all offseason with this unique COVID season. I can’t thank them enough for how they handled themselves this season.”
No. 4 Chopticon 4, No. 6 Atholton 2 (3A championship)
A — 200 000 0 — 2 6 0
Ch — 210 010 x — 4 8 1
W: Ch — Shane Smith; L: A — Liam Snow.
2B: Ch — Blake Adkins, Tyler Quade; A — Devin Hollingsworth.
3B: Ch — Demetrius Jamison.
Latest Howard County Sports
SB: Ch — Phillip McCarthy; A — Scotty Vaszil.