Few people who don’t wear the green and yellow Wilde Lake baseball jersey believed it had a chance to win a playoff game.
After all, the Wildecats are No. 6 seed out of six teams in Section I of the 2A South region after going 2-15 during the regular season. They were outscored by 80 runs in 17 contests and finished 11th out of 12 Howard County teams in the standings. They averaged a league-worst 3.4 runs per game. Yet they believed. Anything is possible in high school baseball.
Then they beat No. 3 seed River Hill in walk-off fashion in their first postseason game. Then they matched their regular season win total by scoring a season-high 12 runs and beating No. 2 Oakland Mills. On Tuesday, Wilde Lake proved its magical playoff run is far from a fluke and took down top-seeded Marriotts Ridge, 6-3, on the road to advance to the 2A South regional championship game for the first time since 2005.
“I teach P.E. at Wilde Lake so I see the baseball banner hanging in the gym every day, but the state championship is blank,” Wildecats’ first-year coach Steve Fredrick said. “... I’ve been around Howard County as an assistant and as a player and now as a head coach, so I am aware how crazy this is. It’s a big deal and we’re riding the wave and having a great time doing it.”
Wilde Lake (5-15) relied on the right arm of Matt Johnson, who pitched his second complete game in three playoff games. He allowed three runs on eight hits, struck out three and walked two but did his best work offensively, going 3-for-4 with a run and three RBI, including two the Wildecats’ four-run seventh inning.
“I think we had the expectation to come out and win three straight games because we believed,” said Johnson, who batted third in the lineup. “We played well and we just weren’t finishing earlier (in the season) and now we’re finally finishing games. ... It builds confidence every game. There’s just more momentum, and even though we’re facing better teams we’ve been the better team every game we play.”
No. 8 hitter Matt Parker led off the seventh with a single to right to start the rally. Will Zimmerman, however, had the game’s biggest hit. With two on, one out and the game knotted, 2-2, his double over the center fielder’s head scored the go-ahead run and ignited the Wilde Lake dugout.
Fredrick knew more runs would be needed, though, and that’s when Johnson ripped a two-RBI double to left and Nathen Hicks hit a third straight two-bagger to score another to make it 6-2.
“Matt comes through and Nate comes through, so it’s almost like we needed that one to get the momentum going and it just rolled over from guy to guy to guy,” Fredrick said.
Marriotts Ridge (14-6) quickly got a rally going in the bottom half of the seventh. Justin Woodbury singled and reached second on an error and Gavin Ross drove him home with a single to left, cutting the deficit to three. A one-out double by Cole Brown put runners on second and third, but Johnson was able to get a strike out and a ground out to end the game.
“They played better. They deserve it,” Mustangs coach Paul Eckert said. “They played better against River Hill, they played better against Oakland Mills and I can guarantee you they played better than we did today.”
The teams traded runs in the first inning. Wilde Lake leadoff batter Grant Gladden doubled and later scored on a passed ball in the top of the first, while reigning Howard County Player of the Year Josh Olsufka roped a RBI double to left in the bottom half of the frame.
The Mustangs took their only lead in the fourth when Cooper Stepke knocked in Ira Snell with a single, but they only held the advantage for a few minutes. Johnson tied the game with a single that hit the second base bag and ricocheted into left field, which allowed Zimmerman to scamper home from second.
Both teams went down in order in the sixth inning before Wilde Lake put the game away in the seventh.
Fredrick said he noticed a change in his team after spring break. They battled with county title contenders Marriotts Ridge and Mt. Hebron and then broke through and beat Centennial, 3-2, on April 29. Fredrick said the regular season was a grind but they showed flashes of potential down the stretch.
“We started to hit a stride as a team,” Fredrick said. “The Centennial game, we came out in the bottom of the seventh and we went one-two-three. We learned how to win that day and that’s carried over into the playoffs.”
Wilde Lake will play the winner of La Plata and Patuxent on the road Friday.
Wilde Lake (5-15) — 6, Marriotts Ridge (14-6) — 3
2A South region semifinal
........... 123 456 7 R-H-E
WL ... 100 010 4 6-11-2
MR ... 100 100 1 3-8-0
Atholton (17-4) — 2, Centennial (11-10) — 0
3A East region semifinal
....... 123 456 7 R-H-E
C ... 000 000 0 0-4-1
A ... 001 100 x 2-6-1
Jack Johnson went 2-for-3, stole two bases and scored a run to lead the Raiders’ offense. He also pitched 2.2 scoreless innings of relief, striking out three. Tony Puciloski started and pitched four scoreless innings to get the win. Benji Thalheimer tripled in a run for the Raiders. Carson Collier had a double and Zach Geesaman drove in the other run with a sacrifice fly. Brian Weinberg came in and got the last out to record the save.
Chris Betler had two of the Eagles’ four hits and Jake Ewart allowed two runs on six hits in six innings.