Gene Miller injected one happy note into a sad ending for Atholton's baseball season Saturday.
Miller, a little-used senior back-up catcher, pinch-hit with two outs in the last inning and blasted a 400-foot-plus home run over the left-field fence. It was a Ruthian kind of blast that left fans slack-jawed.
The solo homer was too little, too late. Atholton lost the Class 3A, Region III semifinal game to Thomas Johnson of Frederick, 7-3.
But it was one of those unforgettable moments for the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Miller, who also played tackle on the football team and ran indoor track this school year.
"I thought it was going to be a double," Miller said. "I didn't think I had hit it that far. It was a great way for me personally to end my career, but I'd have been happier if our team had won."
Miller's blast certainly left Raiders coach Kevin Kelly open to second-guessers. Miller only batted five times this season, and in those at-bats he doubled and homered.
Last season he batted only four times and doubled. So he's 3-for-10 with a homer and two doubles in two years. Not bad. So how come Miller didn't get more chances to play?
Kelly's answer was that, based on practices, he just didn't think Miller could hit.
Miller couldn't have hit much worse than most of the other Raiders during the last couple of weeks of the season. Atholton, which won its first nine league games, dropped four of its final six contests, including the regional game, and the Raiders looked bad while doing it. They literally stumbled across the finish line into a county co-championship with Glenelg.
Atholton managed just five hits against Thomas Johnson, and three of those were by second baseman Brian Van Deusen, who hit consistently all season and led the Raiders in batting. Bryan Egolf also doubled.
The Raiders committed four errors Saturday, and all seven Thomas Johnson runs were unearned.
The victim of the poor support was pitcher Brian Gick, a high-quality pitcher who certainly deserved better.
"We haven't played good defense behind Gick all season," Kelly said. "He pitched well enough to win, and kept the ball in the park against a power-hitting team."
Thomas Johnson (13-6) had seven hits, all singles. Six of them came in the first two innings when Thomas Johnson scored six runs. Atholton made three costly errors in those two innings.
Gick pitched six innings, fanned eight and walked just two. He impressed the Thomas Johnson players.
"He [Gick] threw pretty good," Patriot third baseman Jesse Williams said. "He mixed his pitches up well and was around the plate a lot."
Miller summed up what turned into a disappointing season for Atholton, despite its 14-7 record.
FTC "We didn't get any better, and as the season went on we slowly made more and more mistakes," said Miller.
The Wildecats didn't have to second-guess themselves. They were just happy to get into the Class 1A, Region II playoffs.
When Brunswick beat them, 11-6, last Friday, they knew they had lost to a better team.
Wilde Lake had a 5-12 record this year. But on the final day of the regular season, the Wildecats unexpectedly won two games from Centennial that put them in the playoffs. Those losses knocked Centennial out of the Class 3A playoffs.
And the Eagles must be the most red-faced team in the state over how they lost. Centennial pitcher Brian Bickerton actually pitched a 4-3 complete-game victory in the second half of that May 11 double-header. But Bickerton also pitched one inning too many.
The state allows pitchers only 14 innings every seven days. Bickerton pitched 15. So Centennial forfeited its win, 7-0.
"We felt we deserved to make the playoffs, not because of our record but because of how hard we worked," Wilde Lake's first-year coach Tim O'Brien said.
Billy Ferguson (.436), Bobby Lane (.520) and Aric Swezy (.362) were Wilde Lake's top players.
Like Atholton, the Gladiators also stopped hitting in the second half of the season. And against Allegany in the Class 2A, Region I semifinal Saturday, they managed just five hits and three runs in a 4-3 loss.
Early in the game, Glenelg led, 3-0. But Allegany, state champs two of the last three years, went ahead 4-3.
In Glenelg's final at-bat, the Gladiators had runners at first and third and one out with their two best hitters due up.
But Joe Goldberg grounded out to the pitcher. Brian Boteler, who had two hits, was intentionally walked for the second time in the game. That loaded the bases. And Dave Gunter popped out to end it.
"It was a well-played game with just one error that didn't mean anything," Glenelg coach Terry Coleman said. "Allegany hit it well -- even their outs were loud."
Kevin Roland threw a six-hitter for the county co-champion Gladiators, who had a better season (12-6) than they expected.