Pioneers let Essex, title off the hook


DUNDALK -- Anne Arundel Community College's roller-coaster ride through the Region XX baseball tournament came to a slow, grinding halt yesterday at Dundalk Community College.

The Pioneers (32-10) ran out of steam in their 11-8 loss to champion Essex Community College. They had rebounded from a 5-0 deficit to score eight unanswered runs, only to see their lead vanish in the final two innings.

"We should have put 'em away when we had the chance to. They came through in the clutch, and we didn't," said Anne Arundel sophomore right fielder Kevin Schiavone. "They were only three runs behind. That kind of lead is catchable. We should have put them away, but we didn't."

The Pioneers already had lost to Essex, 17-5, earlier in the double-elimination tournament. To win the title, AACC needed to take two from Essex yesterday.

The Knights, down, 8-6, in the bottom of the eighth, used two singles, a walk and two force-outs to score five runs and clinch the title. Chris Lafferman started the rally with a single to left, Robert Elmore walked, and Juan Johnson bunted for a single to load the bases. Ken Batten drilled an RBI single, then Dale Lahr hit into a force play to drive in Johnson for the tying run.

Danny Gonzales drove in Elmore to put Essex up for good, then first baseman Jerry Nicklow booted a hard smash by Greg Boyd, prompting pitcher Mike Cieslak's removal. Pinch hitter Jason Benyo slapped a Dennis Lowe delivery through the infield to end the underdogs' season.

"I don't think I left Mike in there too long," said Anne Arundel coach Clayton Jacobson. "He's a sophomore, and he's been in those types of situations before. When I went out to talk to him and the catcher [Mike Nelson], he [Cieslak] said he still had his stuff."

At the end of the first inning, the second-seeded Knights (24-4) looked as though they would make quick work of the Pioneers. Starting pitcher Glenn Shiring was knocked off of the mound by Lafferman's one-out grand slam over the left-field fence, giving Essex a 5-0 cushion.

Jacobson then pulled Shiring in favor of Cieslak, an All-Tournament selection. The Old Mill graduate went the next seven innings with eight strikeouts, while giving up seven hits.

"I think Glenn had lots of trouble with that mound. Technically, it ,, was an illegal mound, it was much too high," said Jacobson. "His stride was just thrown way off. It was like when you're going down a flight of steps, and you think you're at the last one, but there's one more left, then you fall."

The Pioneers seemed to have adjusted to the Knights pitching during the top of the third inning, as they chased starter Jackson Edwards out of the game with consecutive singles by Jason Sigler (an All-Tournament Team selection at center field) and Schiavone and a walk by Brent Flaharty.

Reliever Rob Webster threw his second pitch in the dirt, allowing Will Scott to score, then gave up successive walks to Dennis Derflinger, Jerry Nicklow, Mike Nelson and George Canceran, making the score 5-4.

The Pioneers also capitalized on the Knights' control problems in the fifth and sixth innings, as Johnson walked in courtesy runner Greg Shepard. Reliever Ken Batten then walked Andy Srebroski (All-Tournament at shortstop), scoring Canceran to give AACC a 6-5 lead in the middle of the fifth.

After Cieslak struck out the side, Jerry Nicklow doubled in Derflinger. Canceran's force-out scored Nicklow to give AACC an 8-5 lead in the bottom of the sixth.

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