Howard County Times

River Hill baseball captures second state title, defeating C. Milton Wright, 1-0: ‘Our dream season became a reality’

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WALDORF — River Hill junior Henry Zatkowski likes to visualize success before his starts, also using breathing techniques between innings and before each pitch.

Pitching in the Class 3A state championship Saturday night against C. Milton Wright, the biggest game of his life, even Zatkowski couldn’t have visualized a performance like this. The Duke commit struck out 15 Mustangs and allowed just one hit, putting on a pitching clinic of how to mix speeds and locations.


“He’s playing a different game,” River Hill coach Craig Estrin said. “He really is. His arm slot, he changes speeds.”

Fittingly, Zatkowski ended the game with a strikeout. The junior emphatically pumped his fists, and a dog pile followed shortly after at Regency Furniture Stadium as No. 4 seed River Hill secured the 1-0 win and the program’s second state title and first since 2009.


“Everything was working,” Zatkowski said. “Fastball, slider, changeup, two-seam [fastball], it basically just seemed like it got by everyone. I have to give a lot of credit to [catcher] Anderson Dang behind the plate. He called a great game. I think I only shook him off a couple times, which is crazy. I can’t recall being in such a zone as that.

“In the fifth inning, the game was going quick and I said, ‘How is it already the fifth inning?’ I was just locked in and mowing guys down.”

The River Hill baseball team poses with its championship plaque after beating C. Milton Wright in the Class 3A state championship game Saturday night at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf.

While Zatkowski was practically untouchable, Thomas Cannavale, starter for the No. 6 seed Mustangs, also silenced River Hill’s lineup with eight strikeouts. That was until the fifth inning, when Riley Finkelston worked a leadoff walk. As he’s done time and time again, Finkelston quickly stole second and third, bringing up fellow senior Colin Chan.

Until that moment, River Hill (19-4) hadn’t attempted a suicide squeeze all season. That didn’t matter as the senior tandem executed it to perfection in the most important moment of the season. Chan laid the bunt down the first base line and Finkelston sprinted home to beat the tag for the game’s only run.

“I was just looking at our dugout all jumping up and down and screaming,” Chan said. “I was getting hyped myself at first base. I knew I did my job. This is now the greatest moment of my life, laying down the bunt for sure. It just shows that in practice we’ve got to take everything serious, every single minute of it. Winning every day like we said last year.”

Pitching with a lead, Zatkowski struck out the side in the sixth as his confidence soared.

“That’s one hell of a pitcher we faced,” C. Milton Wright coach Mike Amaral said as his team ended the season 17-5. “We faced a D1 commit. We tried to tag a little bit. We tried to chip away, but he was just spotting up.”

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C. Milton Wright advanced a runner to third in the top of the seventh with two strikes and two outs. While that pressure would faze some, it didn’t bother Zatkowski, who confidently put the finishing touches on the win.


“I closed my eyes took a breath and just told myself, ‘I got it,’” Zatkowski said. “I’ve had a history of giving up big hits, but this time it just worked out. I can trust my guys in the field.”

While the game coasted by thanks to Zatkowski’s dominance, the Hawks made sure to soak in the emotion during the postgame celebration. Everyone took their place in left field, but one thing was missing — assistant coach Brandon Estrin and the patented bat slam that’s become a winning tradition.

Estrin, a member of the 2009 state championship team, sprinted in and emphatically planted the knob of the bat in the grass while being mobbed by a sea of Carolina blue and white jerseys. Then Craig gathered the team and said, “Guys, our dream season became a reality.”

He added: “When they walk into that gym, 10 years from now, 15 years from now, they’ll say, ‘I went to school here, I was part of that.’ They’ll see the banner up on the wall and it’s something they’ll never forget.”

For the program’s six seniors, Saturday night marked their final game in a River Hill uniform. They’ll always remember the work it took to finish their careers with a state title.

“Endless happiness, ‘It’s our state, ‘Let’s go,’” Finkelston said. “It’s a great way to leave this school with a positive memory. With how we prepared, we always had the goal of states in mind. We knew there was a certain way to do it and that was to focus every single second of the day on baseball and just never giving up or backing down, being 100% about this goal, which is winning states.”