Crouse Construction won four games last week to edge closer to archrival Cecil Johnies in the hottest race to the playoffs in the Maryland Semi-Pro Baseball League.
Thursday night at Thomas Run Park, Crouse ran its winning streak to 14 games with a 7-3 victory over Fortunato Brothers. Crouse's record improved to 40-6.
With four regular-season games remaining, Crouse trailed league-leading Johnies (43-6) by 1 1/2 games. The two were scheduled to meet yesterday to make up an earlier rain-out. Crouse had already swept the first three games of the series.
Both teams will move on to the playoffs, along with Bel Air Athletic Club and Aberdeen McDonald's, because the first four teams advance. But neither Crouse nor Johnies will be happy with second place.
"Both teams want to win first place to say they beat the other," said Crouse infielder Mike Hughes.
Crouse may have some extra incentive since it lost the division title last year in a one-game playoff with Johnies. Since Johnies came into the league, Crouse has not won the division championship.
Even if Crouse were to beat Johnies in yesterday's match-up, it would have to win three more games to clinch the division title. Make-up games remaining are a doubleheader today with Churchville Pirates and a single game tomorrow night against Little Caesar's.
The Crouse players will have to be careful not to suffer a letdown for those last three games. "The guys get real fired up when we play Johnies," said Hughes. "I've never seen anything like it. They're always on their feet in the dugout. They never sit down. If they could get that intense for every game, we'd never lose."
Through their winning streak, the Crouse players have put together strong pitching, defense and hitting, along with excellent base running. Every game seems to have a different hero.
Against Fortunato Brothers Thursday night at Thomas Run Park, Kwan So hit a two-run homer in the first inning, and Crouse never trailed. Dale Lahr allowed only one run and picked up the win. Charlie Pritchett and Dave Brennan came on in relief.
Just behind Johnies and Crouse, another fierce race was on for the third place in the Northern Division. At press time Friday, Bel Air Athletic Club held onto third (32-17), with Aberdeen McDonald's (31-17) trailing by half a game.
Both teams won their Thursday games, but Aberdeen McDonald's could clinch third place in Friday night's scheduled double header with Little Caesar's.
Bel Air Athletic Club defeated Morgan Financial, 7-2, Thursday night. J.R. Gil de Leon hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning to put Bel Air on top to stay. Mark Fox had two hits for Bel Air, and Mike Powers was the winning pitcher.
Aberdeen topped Towson Athletic Club, 11-5. Sean Lamb picked up the win.
Once all the teams complete their 50-game schedules, the division playoffs begin. The first-place team plays the fourth while second-place plays third in best two-out-of-three series. The winners also will play off in a best-of-three series.
The League championship, pitting the winner of the Northern Division against the winner of the Southern Division, will follow in a best-of-five series. Defending League champion Overlea Anxious is holding in second place in the Southern Division behind the Parkville Royals.