Northeast third baseman Chad O'Brien entered yesterday's 2A state semifinal baseball game against James M. Bennett with 54 career walks -- two shy of a state record.
And judging from his performance at the plate against the visitors from Salisbury, there is a distinct possibility that he'll come up one short.
The Eagles' leadoff man received a free pass his first time up, but a home run and two singles later, the senior's bat was still smoking -- along with the top-seeded defending champs, as they subdued the Clippers, 7-3, at Arundel High.
With the victory, Northeast advances to Saturday's state championship game at 10 a.m. at McCurdy Field in Frederick against Walkersville, which defeated Patapsco, 3-2.
The Eagles (17-5) earned their victory in the same fashion as their previous playoff wins over Chopticon and Surrattsville -- by jumping out to a large lead in the early innings to give their pitching staff ample leeway.
"In all of our [playoff] games, we've jumped ahead pretty quick. And pretty much for the whole game, our pitchers have stopped the other team," said O'Brien, who also stole two bases and scored three runs.
"Our pitchers have been doing an excellent job. They've been getting lots of strikeouts and making the job easier on the infielders," said O'Brien.
Winning pitcher Wayne Hudson improved to 6-1 with six innings of work. The junior right-hander threw more than 100 pitches, giving up two runs on six hits and four walks with seven strikeouts.
"Wayne's worked hard all year. We didn't think he would be as good as he's been this year. He's really turned out to be our ace," said O'Brien of Hudson, who threw a no-hitter against Chopticon in the Region III semifinal.
The victors made the most of two hits and three walks in the bottom of the first, as Keith Hohman doubled in his 18th and 19th runs of the year. Derek Dolch added an RBI single to drive in K. C. Murphy (2-for-4, two RBI) to take a 3-0 lead.
Catcher Rich Spiegel then drove in his 35th run of the year during the second inning, scoring O'Brien (who had stolen second and advanced to third on Joe Hoyer's ground-out) to make the score 4-0.
The Clippers (14-4) closed the gap to 4-1 in their half of the fourth, when lefty designated hitter John Richenberg doubled in Nick Evanusa.
But Northeast tacked on two runs in the fourth, thanks to O'Brien's 365-foot solo shot and Murphy's RBI single, driving in Joe Hoyer, who had sliced an opposite-field double.
Frank Parson's RBI double in the top of the sixth gave Bennett its second run of the game, but the Eagles made up for the run in their next at-bat on Murphy's well-executed bunt single that drove in O'Brien.
With Hudson's arm rapidly tiring, Eagle coach Harry Lentz brought in Chris Kelly. Kelly (5-1, including a one-hit effort against Surrattsville) walked the first two batters, then got the next two to pop up.
Following Jaime Hastings' RBI single and another walk, Lentz removed Kelly and inserted Dolch, who bailed his team out of a potentially dangerous situation by getting Richenberg to hit into a force play at second with the bases loaded to end the game.
"I thought Wayne pitched well enough to get the W," said Lentz. "He kept them off balance a great deal of the time. His control is what got him in trouble later on."