River Hill coach Wes McCoy didn’t like much of what he saw from his team through five innings on Wednesday against visiting Centennial. There was everything from a lack of fundamentals to errors to five-pitch innings offensively, so when the Eagles took a 10-1 lead in the top of the sixth inning, McCoy decided it was time to bring in some new faces off the bench.
“Sometimes you just need to throw out a different group and see if they can make things happen,” he said.
What materialized next was difficult to fathom for everyone involved. River Hill scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth on four hits — three of which came from players fresh off the bench — to cut the deficit to six. And in the seventh, the Hawks completed the rally of a lifetime by scoring seven runs with shortstop Casey Finkelston ending the game on a walk-off two-RBI single to right field.
“Electric. I don’t really have words,” Finkelston said. “It’s awesome.”
After Finkelston led off the inning with a base on balls against Centennial closer Zach Steen, it became contagious. Ryan Lynn walked, and though Lucas Balda struck out, Danny Selby singled and Alex Elliott (hit by pitch), Gabe Lancaster-Dixon, Bryan Smith and John Koutras (hit by pitch) all reached via walk against Steen. Even Matt Durkee, who relieved Steen after he faced eight batters, hit Lucas Gitelman in the next at-bat before Finkelston poked a soft ground ball through the hole and was mobbed by his teammates.
“I knew I was taking first pitch because I knew he wasn’t throwing many strikes, but I was just looking to go up there and hit the ball well,” Finkelston said. “We just played a very good ball game, battled back and worked hard.”
In total, five of the seven runs in the final half inning scored on bases-loaded walks.
“We needed three outs that we didn’t get,” Eagles coach Denis Ahearn said. “We just got tight. I brought [Steen] in to close and he’s probably my best pitcher but he just had a rough day on the mound and couldn’t find the zone. And then we got tense and we let the pressure build on them.”
McCoy wouldn’t describe his managerial decision as emptying the bench because Lynn, Balda, Lancaster-Dixon and Koutras have earned opportunities to contribute. That group turned out to be the difference in the outcome and combined to go 3-for-4 with two singles, a triple, four RBIs, three walks and four runs in the sixth and seventh innings.
The bench also did its job on the mound. Elliott allowed eight runs on seven hits through 2.2 innings as the starter and Selby pitched 1.1 scoreless innings in relief, but Daniel Sheehan, Keegan Remick and Lynn combined to allow one run on three hits with no walks in the final three innings to cool the Eagles’ red-hot bats.
Nine players had hits for River Hill (5-3 Howard County, 5-4 overall) and Selby was the only one with two.
“A lot of guys came in and did a job today. I thought our pitchers came in and did a good job to finish the game, and the little freshman [Lynn] holding the fort down to keep us close in that inning,” McCoy said. “A win like this is just a whole bunch of things that go your way and you’ve got to get a lot of good fortune and get a couple balls to drop. That’s about as quintessential a high school baseball game that you’re going to get.”
On the other side, Centennial (5-4, 5-6) led by nine runs for a reason. Its offense was patient and consistent throughout the lineup as every starter reached base and eight scored as least one run. Jake Ewart, Jack Pistner (double) and Chris Betler (2-for-4, 2 RBIs, run) started the game with hits and came around to score, while No. 9 hitter Bailey Wickstrom finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs and had a two-run single in their four-run third inning. Dylan Watson also had a big day at the plate, going 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs.
Starting pitcher Conarie Steinbach left the game with a 10-4 lead and struck out three, walked two and allowed eight hits and four runs in six innings.
“I’ve been on one end of it and I’ve probably been on the other end of it too,” Ahearn said. “It’s not about what happened today for us; what it’s about is how do we respond? What do we do next? ... I’ve got a team of primarily sophomores and this could ultimately be a good thing for us, to understand what pressure is and what pressure situations are like. You want something like this happen now and not in the playoffs.”
River Hill (5-3 county, 5-4 overall) — 11, Centennial (5-4, 5-6) — 10
.......... 123 456 7 R-H-E
C ...... 404 011 0 10-10-1