Centennial junior starting pitcher Zack Steen had no idea how many Reservoir batters he retired in a row. He was simply too locked in to keep track of such things. But his best guess after the game was 12.
Eagles coach Denis Ahearn estimated it was less than that, maybe 10. It couldn’t have been too many more than that, he thought. Not against a team as good as top-seeded Reservoir.
In reality, the right-hander put down 17 consecutive batters from the last out of the first inning to the first out of the seventh during Centennial’s 4-0 road win in a 3A East region quarterfinal Saturday morning.
“Oh, wow,” Steen said. “That’s amazing. I don’t know what else to say.”
He allowed one hit to the third batter of the game and walked just two — one in the first frame and his last hitter with one out in the seventh — while striking out nine across six and a third innings. He said it was “easily” his best pitching performance of the season.
“He was locked in,” Ahearn said. “This was his day.”
Centennial (11-9) will face either Mt. Hebron or Atholton on Tuesday for a chance to reach the regional final.
Steen and the Eagles have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows this season. On back-to-back days in late April, they lost to last-place Wilde Lake and beat county champions Howard. They never won or lost more than three games in a row all year. They came into the second-round playoff game with a run differential of minus-one.
They won in dramatic fashion and lost in devastating ones, like the game on April 10 against River Hill when they took a 10-1 lead into the sixth inning only to lose 11-10 after the Hawks scored seven runs in the seventh. The pitcher who allowed six of those runs on six walks in a third of an inning? Steen.
“It all crumbled around him [against River Hill] and to see him do this here with more pressure and everything, this is why I do this,” Ahearn said. “To see a kid like him rise to the occasion and become better and assert himself the way he did. That’s phenomenal.”
Steen, who was used the majority of the season as a reliever but was making a rare start on Saturday, was strong from the beginning. He struck out the first two batters of the game and, after allowing a double to Daniel Elliott and a walk to Nick Helmick, he punched out Lake Frey to strike out the side.
From then on, he was nearly untouchable. He struck out two more batters in the second and two more in the third. After his eighth strikeout to end the fourth inning, one of Steen’s teammates said, “He’s on fire.”
“I was just trying to get more outs and just get this game over and throw strikes, not walk people,” Steen said. “Just keep us in the game pretty much.”
The offense, meanwhile, did just enough against Gators (13-5) starting pitcher Trevor Romaine (4.1 IP, 5 K, 1 BB, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER). An unearned scored in the third inning on Jack Pistner’s RBI infield single and a hit-by-pitch and a double by Ryan Cavey set up a potential big fourth inning for Centennial. An RBI single by Phillip Crispell made it 2-0 and controversy came soon after at a play at the plate.
Cavey broke for home when the runner at first was caught in a rundown and Cavey was ruled safe at the plate after a collision with the catcher. The umpires gathered for several minutes and determined the runner was indeed safe. That’s when Reservoir coach Adam Leader came out of the dugout to ask for an explanation but was ejected from the game for the first time in his 17-year career.
Leader said he thought the runner extended his arms on the slide. Ultimately, that run wasn’t the difference in the game, he said. “When it came down to it, we didn’t have the offense today.”
“They played really well today. I can’t take anything away from Steen. He came out and pitched really well and we just didn’t have good at-bats today. ... I tip my cap to Denis and those guys. They’ve been that team all year long that, man, if you don’t come out and get to them early they’re going to come around and beat you.”
Steen helped his own cause with an RBI on a fielder’s choice in the fifth inning for the Eagles’ fourth run. Matt Durkee relieved Steen, who reached his pitch count limit, with one out in the seventh inning and struck out the last two batters.
Centennial split its two games with Mt. Hebron and defeated Atholton in their only meeting this season.
“We’ve seen them and we know who they are,” Ahearn said. “This is the type of game that, this is why you play. This is what you do all this for. The kids are excited and they’ll be ready.”
Sophomore Grant Gladden and senior Nate Hicks led the Wildecats offensive outburst. Gladden had four hits, four RBI, a stolen base and scored a run. Hicks reached base all rive times he came to the plate, drove in three runs, scored two, and hit a towering two-run home run to cap the scoring in the top of the fifth inning. Senior Eli Fisher added two hits, an RBI, a run and a stolen base. All nine Wildecats starters had at least one hit.
Sophomore Sam Balthis earned the win on the mound, allowing four earned runs in five innings. Senior Will Zimmerman finished the game with two hitless innings of relief.
Marriotts Ridge (14-5) — 6, Glenelg (7-13) — 5
2A South region quarterfinal
........... 123 456 7 R-H-E
G ....... 001 002 2 5-10-4
MR ... 100 040 1 6-4-2
Cole Rosenthal stole second, moved up to third on a blocked ball and scored the game-ending run in the bottom of the seventh inning when the throw went wide into left field in the Mustangs win. Josh Olsufka started on the mound and allowed three runs — two earned — on six hits while striking out 14. Cooper Stepke led the offense with two RBI and a run scored.
Tad Henley started for the Gladiators and allowed six runs — two earned — on four hits while walking four and striking out six. He also went 2-4 at the plate. Hunter Koele and Garrett Walker also had two hits apiece.