By the time the Northeast baseball team had finished with Middletown's Matt Helfer, a southpaw hurler whose fastball has been clocked in the mid-80s, his arm hung useless at his side.

"I couldn't feel anything -- it was like a rubber band," said Helfer, whose 13-3 loss tothe Eagles in Tuesday's Class 2A semifinal was only his second defeat in 11 starts.

Helfer walked off the mound in the fourth inning trailing, 8-2, and joined an elite group of lefties who have been KO'd by the 23-0 Eagles.

Among the Eagles' southpaw victims are Old Mill's Jimmy Simms, who dropped a 7-6 decision, and Arundel's Zach Collins, a 14-4 loser.

Next up? Hammond's Joe Nestor, a finesse pitcher who will facethe Eagles in tomorrow's 10 a.m. state championship game at Frederick's McCurdy Field. At 7 p.m., Arundel and defending champion Perry Hall meet in the 4A state final.

"We've seen our share of left-handers, and down the stretch it's going to help us," said Northeast's 24-year coach Harry Lentz, whose squad last won a state title in 1975.

"Joey Hoyer, our No. 2 batter, is hitting .339, and that's the lowest average of the starters. And the bottom of the order is producingruns now, too -- that just adds another dimension. We don't have an easy out in the lineup."

One look at Northeast's hit list -- six have averages of at least .423 and at least 11 RBI -- tells why.

The ledger includes third baseman Don Shump (.484, county-record 44 RBI), first baseman Russ Curry (.461, 38 RBI), catcher Rich Speigel (.493, 35 RBI), right fielder Derek Dolch (.423, 27 RBI), pitcher/center fielder Craig Everett (.436, 26 RBI) and designated hitter Chad O'Brien (.433, 11 RBI).

Shump picked up his sixth homer of the season against Helfer, blasting a 370-plus foot shot over the center-field fence at McCurdy Field. Speigel has four home runs, Everett and Dolch have three each and Curry has one.

K. C. Murphy and Jamie Barnett, the last two hitters in Northeast's lineup, are batting .417 and .364, respectively. Barnett also has 17 RBI.

Murphy got a good look atone of Nestor's pitches back on April 2, as the Eagles handed the senior one of his two losses in a 15-4 victory.

Trailing, 7-4, in the sixth, Nestor went the way of the other lefties after Murphy's grand slam put the game out of reach.

"It was only the fourth game of the season and we've improved a lot since then -- but it's obvious that Northeast has, also," said Hammond coach Bob Maxey.

The Bears (19-4) have been on a tear lately, winning seven in a row -- includingTuesday's 7-0 victory over two-time Class 2A state tournament runner-up Edgewood, with Nestor pitching a two-hitter and striking out nine.

He has 100 strikeouts in 77 innings, along with 20 walks and an impressive 1.45 ERA.

But Northeast ace Charlie Buckheit is seekinghis 11th victory -- he has a county record 29 for his career -- and the Bears had trouble making contact against him earlier in the season.

Buckheit enters the game with a 2.28 ERA, 74 strikeouts and 10 walks in 66 innings.

Hammond led twice against the Eagles in the first meeting, and Maxey hopes that will serve as further motivation for his team.

"Our first game was close through five innings, and Ithink if we can keep them from a big inning, we'll hang with them," he said.

The Bears' lead-off batter, Mike Alvarez, and cleanup hitter Jeff Lavis both are slugging .500 with four homers. Lavis, a first baseman, has 35 RBI, and left fielder Alvarez has 15.

Shortstop Jeff Cyran (.430), Hammond's No. 3 batter, has 29 RBI and a team-highsix homers.

"Batter for batter, they're better," Maxey said of the Eagles. "Their 7, 8 and 9 batters are better. But 1 through 4, we'll hang in there, and I think Lavis can hit as well as Shump. I think our infield defense is better than theirs, but I's sure Harry (Lentz)would disagree."

Few would dispute the quality of starting pitching in the 4A title game, where lefties Zach Collins of Arundel (19-4)and Kevin Loewe of Perry Hall (16-2) will do battle at McCurdy Field.

Collins, 7-1 with a 1.40 ERA, hopes to lead the Wildcats to their fifth state championship under Coach Bernie Walter. The last came in 1987.

Collins, a junior, has "learned to pitch at this level; topitch against the good teams, the big teams," Walter said.

"I'm pleased with his progress."

Walter also has reason to smile when recounting his team's 7-1 record against opposing left-handers this season. But Loewe -- 18-0 over the past two seasons, including 8-0 this year -- could dampen his mood considerably.

He's thrown one no-hitter and four shutouts this season, and hurled nine scoreless innings in the region playoffs.

"The kid, Loewe, has been their ace over the last two years. He's an experienced pitcher on an experienced ballclub," Walter said.

Loewe's greatest task tomorrow will be keepingArundel's Scott Young off the bases. Few have done so thus far.

Young, a senior shortstop and lead-off hitter, tops the Wildcats in batting (.400), runs batted in (28) and stolen bases (32).

"I think he's the player of the year in Anne Arundel County. Nobody plays defense with him, nobody runs the bases with him. And talk about hitting in the clutch. He's the ultimate lead-off hitter," Walter said.

Once Loewe gets past Young, he must contend with the likes of third baseman Chris Durocher (.375), designated hitter Larry Dobson (three home runs, 21 RBI), catcher Dusty Oldfather (three home runs, 20 RBI) and first baseman Shawn Crews (24 RBI).

The Wildcats' infield, whichalso includes second baseman Jason Radford, has turned a state-record 21 double plays. Arundel also set a school record with 142 stolen bases, surpassing the old mark of 131.

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