Taking a 5-0 lead into the seventh inning at River Hill on Wednesday afternoon, the Glenelg baseball team might have felt like a win was pretty much in the bag.
But coming off of a 2015 season in which they lost seven games by two runs or less, the Gladiators know better than to take any win for granted.
River Hill scored four times in the bottom of the seventh, and put the winning run on second base with no outs, but Glenelg (5-1) got out of the jam to win, 5-4, in the battle of first place teams.
"In these one-run games we really have the confidence that we're going to win, whereas last year we lost a lot of one-run games," said Glenelg starting pitcher Sean Kinloch, who took a four-hit shutout with eight strikeouts into the seventh inning. "This year we're not going to lose them. We've been there before."
Through most of the game, Kinloch's ability to throw his swooping curveball for a strike at any time in the count left the River Hill batters flummoxed. The Hawks had only one runner reach second base through the first six innings, when Jake Parker (2-for-4) singled to lead off the fourth and made it into scoring position on a groundout by Derek Gold. But Kinloch cleaned up that situation with back-to-back called strikeouts.
"Sean threw the ball fantastic. He really couldn't have done any better than he did," said Glenelg assistant coach Steve Switala.
Glenelg freshman Hunter Koele also made an outstanding diving catch in right field in the second inning to support Kinloch.
In the meantime, River Hill starter Kieran Garner was pitching a gem of his own. The Hawks ace struck out 10 batters in only 5 and 1/3 innings, and allowed only four hits. Glenelg put a run on the board in the second, on a two-out RBI single by Hunter Koele after back-to-back singles by Tucker Garufi and John McAuliffe to start the inning. But Garner avoided a big inning by getting a swinging strikeout to leave the bases loaded.
"He's got good stuff and he mixes well. He was able to get the breaking ball over for strikes," Switala said. "The biggest thing for us was just battling. Trying not to make things easy on him, working counts as best we could and when we got runners on we tried to be aggressive running the bases."
The Gladiators added another run in the fifth on a two-strike, two-out RBI double into the gap by designated hitter Jake Wright. No. 9 hitter Garrett Gravanda, who drew three walks in three plate appearances, scored that run after drawing a leadoff walk and advancing into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Hunter Forsyth.
Then in the sixth, Glenelg broke the game open with three more runs by drawing five walks against three different pitchers, along with a sacrifice fly by Forsyth and a Hank Koele two-out RBI single. Three of Glenelg's five runs came with two outs.
"Their hitters had a good approach and they got really clutch base hits with runners in scoring position," River Hill coach Wes McCoy said. "That's how you win close games."
The Hawk bats finally came alive in the bottom of the seventh, when Jake Howland drew a leadoff walk followed by back-to-back RBI doubles by Garner and Luke Parker that prompted a call to the bullpen for Glenelg closer Cole Yungmann.
After three consecutive first-pitch singles through the infield by Tucker Finkleston (RBI), Danny Selby and No. 9 hitter Ian Sterling (RBI), and a throwing error, River Hill had the tying run on third and the winning run on second with no outs and the top of the order coming up.
But that's when Yungmann, who had a 2.45 ERA in 34 innings last year, put out the fire with a strikeout, a flare to second baseman Jake Harding, and a fly ball to right field that Garufi tracked down in foul territory.
"After four pitches and three hits, I was a little shocked out there ... I'm always trying to get ahead in the count, but I really laid it in there a couple of times," Yungmann said. "After that I just had to bear down, stay on the outside corner a lot and change speeds ... I was thinking 'No way they get this in. This is on me. Time to step up and get this win.'"
The Gladiators have now won three games by two runs or less this season.
"There's definitely something special going on with this team," Switala said. "They never feel out of a game. They battle all the way through, they grind, and they don't give away at-bats, they don't give away pitches. It's paid off for us so far ... we've still got a long way to go and we've got a lot to improve on but we're keeping ourselves in the conversation."
After Wednesday's games, Glenelg is now tied for first place with Howard at 5-1 in the Howard County league standings. The Gladiators defeated Howard, 5-4, on Monday, but lost to Centennial, 4-3, last Friday.
Atholton, Marriotts Ridge, Mt. Hebron and River Hill are all tied for third place at 4-2.
"All of those teams that are in the top half record-wise right now, we're all going to play each other in the next five or six games, so we're going to see who's going to emerge from that," McCoy said. "It'll be interesting to see how it shakes out."
G (5-1) 010 013 0 - 5 5 1
RH (4-2) 000 000 4 - 4 9 1
Garner, Windsor (6), J. Parker (6) and L. Parker. Kinloch, Yungmann (7) and Ha. Koele.
2B: G — Wright. RH — Garner, L. Parker.
Around the League
Oakland Mills 12, Centennial 4
The Scorpions won their first conference game since 2013, upsetting a Centennial team that had won three games in a row against top-tier teams.
Scorpions junior center fielder Chris Clyde led the offense with three doubles, three RBIs and two runs scored. Senior Tim Brumbaugh allowed only two earned runs through four innings on the mound to keep his team in the game.
Centennial took a 4-2 lead into the sixth inning, when Oakland Mills senior catcher Andrew Atkins hit a clutch two-out single to center field to send runners home from second and third base, tying the game.
In the seventh inning, the Scorpions exploded for eight runs on six hits to break the game wide open. Senior Erik DiSanti hit a two-run single, freshman Ryan Looper added an RBI single, and junior Cameron Nikiel stroked an RBI double to highlight the scoring outburst. Clyde capped off the scoring with his second double of the inning, clearing the bases.
Freshman Ben Looper took care of the rest by pitching three scoreless innings to notch his second victory of the season, concluding his effort by striking out the last two batters.
"I was very happy for my guys," Oakland Mills coach Matt Sillers said. "We have been working hard day in and day out and it paid off in our efforts today."
Earlier this spring, the Scorpions beat Franklin in a tournament game to end a 43-game losing streak.
Howard 9, Hammond 1
The Lions kept pace with Glenelg, defeating Hammond to hold onto a piece of first place. Casey Crawford pitched four solid innings to earn the win, while Reid Walsh took the mound for the last three. JR Faulkner was a sparkplug on the basepaths, stealing four bases and scoring two runs.
Marriotts Ridge 5, Long Reach 4
The Mustangs won their second straight one-run game, halting a five-game win streak by the Lightning.
Mt. Hebron 12, Atholton 2
The Vikings held the Raiders to only five hits, and have won their last two contests by a combined score of 30-6 after a two-game slide. Mt. Hebron batters drew 13 walks and had nine hits in the win. Sophomore Jack Lawrence collected two hits, three stolen bases and an RBI for Atholton, and senior Brian Cook doubled in the loss.
Reservoir 8, Wilde Lake 0
After Wednesday's shutout victory, the Gators have now allowed only five runs in their last three games.
Mount Carmel at Glenelg Country (MIAA B)
League Standings (as of April 11)
Marriotts Ridge, 4-2
Mt. Hebron, 4-2
River Hill, 4-2
Long Reach, 3-3
Oakland Mills, 1-6
Wilde Lake, 0-6
Glenelg Country, 3-3 (MIAA B)
Chapelgate, 3-1 (MIAA C)
Friday, April 15 schedule
Atholton at Glenelg
Centennial at Wilde Lake
Howard at Reservoir
Marriotts Ridge at Mt. Hebron
River Hill at Long Reach