WALDORF — Glenelg pitcher Nick Duvall stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and the score tied at 1 in the top of the sixth inning.
The situation wasn’t new, as Patuxent intentionally walked DJ Stolba to bring up Duvall earlier in the game and got him to pop out to the second baseman.
However, the result was drastically different this time, as Duvall looped the ball into left field for a bases-clearing double. The three-run shot sparked the sixth-seeded Gladiators’ 4-1 victory over top seed Patuxent in the Class 2A final at Regency Furniture Stadium, clinching the program’s sixth state championship and first since 1999.
“I was sitting fastball because I knew that kid was going to throw me fastballs,” Duvall said. “Then they gave me that curveball and I just swung it and barreled it up. I was trying not to think too much, get in my head. ... Once it went through, I was ecstatic.”
Viewing the intentional walks to Stolba as a sign of disrespect, the cleanup hitter Duvall delivered the critical blow when his team needed it most. He also excelled on the mound, too, allowing just one run in six innings. A utility player, Duvall has functioned in a multitude of roles for the Gladiators (19-5) this season.
“Nick’s probably been our best hitter all year,” Glenelg coach Steve Tiffany said. “When they [intentionally walked him] early in the game, I’m thinking, ‘This works out in our favor.’ When they did it a second time, I knew eventually that he was going to break through, and then he did.
“What he showed on the mound, he had the biggest at-bat of his life and comes through. He’s just a pretty tough kid. At the beginning of the season we thought he was going to play a little third, we didn’t know he could pitch this well. Finally gave him the opportunity and he just beat an undefeated baseball team. He’s the heart and soul of our team.”
Before Duvall’s double, the Gladiators took advantage of the Panthers’ (21-1) mistakes in the sixth. Ben Pearcy beat out a slow groundball to short, while Logan Pusheck singled to shallow right on a miscommunication between a pair of Patuxent players.
Three batters later, Duvall found a hole in left field, emphatically pumping his fist on second base. Riding the momentum of his clutch hit, Duvall delivered a 1-2-3 sixth as the Gladiators faithful continued to grow louder.
“Just confidence, our fans and parents coming here to support us,” Zach Lafountain said. “We know that we put in all the hard work for this moment. It worked, and we executed.”
With a three-run lead, Jackson Kelley came on for the save in the seventh. One of Glenelg’s best pitchers throughout the year, Kelley shut the door on the Panthers. Getting ahead of hitters, he dialed up the velocity for a pair of strikeouts, including the final out that secured the elusive title.
“I was just bathing in the glory,” Kelley said. “Winning feels so good. They came in 21-0. It doesn’t matter. It looks better on paper, but it’s about who executes better, and we did that today.”
The state championship put the finishing touches on a postseason highlighted by close victories. All five of Glenelg’s playoff wins were by three runs or less, as the Gladiators delivered clutch performances when it mattered most.
That stretch was fueled by a strong pitching staff and effective defense, as Glenelg did not allow more than three runs in any game. Saturday afternoon’s performance exemplified that, with Duvall’s pitching and the defense behind him holding Patuxent down.
“I knew if the game was tight, the advantage was for us,” Tiffany said. “They didn’t play a lot of tight baseball games, that’s how good they were. We have. We were battle-tested all year long. Our playoff games were 4-1, 3-0, 5-3, 4-3 and 4-1. Our guys weren’t going to give up. They were battle-tested.
“We weren’t going to crumble, and that’s what they showed tonight.”