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Southern's turnaround season only lacked playoff spot


Southern, a team that deserved to be in the high schoo baseball playoffs, didn't quite make it.

Two-time defending state champion Northeast took the final Class 2A, Region III playoff berth with a 5-3 victory at home to eliminate upstart Southern, a sentimental favorite if ever there was one. Northeast joins three other county baseball teams in postseason play beginning Friday.

Northeast (10-10) will travel to top-seeded Surrattsville of Prince George's County, and in Class 4A, Region IV, top-seeded Arundel (17-1) will play host to No. 4 seed Chesapeake (13-6), and No. 3 seed Old Mill (13-5) travels to No. 2 Patterson (14-4).

It's a shame that Southern (9-11) didn't make it. Here is a high school team that for years has been regarded as a joke when it comes to baseball, but through the efforts of coach Chuck Crandell, all that has changed.

Crandell has turned a program that had gone 15-118 over nearly a decade into a respectable and even feared team this spring.

When Crandell took over in 1991, the Bulldogs had gone 2-16 the year before and their last playoff appearance in 1977 seemed ages ago. Crandell coached Southern's JV in 1990 and started laying a foundation that brought the Bulldogs within one game of the 2A playoffs this week.

Last week, Southern was on the brink of clinching the final 2A, Region III playoff berth but blew a game it should have won.

"Man, I wish we could have that Queen Anne's game back," said Crandell. "They [Queen Anne's] pitched two JV pitchers against us, and we didn't take advantage of it. We made eight errors, gave up 10 unearned runs and lost, 13-7."

Had Southern won that game, the eight playoff points would have given it the berth over Northeast despite the Eagles' win Monday. Northeast nosed out the Bulldogs by a point.

With a victory over Queen Anne's and a subsequent 7-4 upset of Class 4A North County, Southern would not have been in a must-win situation with Broadneck and Northeast in the final two games.

The Bulldogs didn't catch a break when they had to face Broadneck ace Sean Ryan, who'd been held back a day so he could face Southern. He threw a one-hitter in Friday's 8-1 win.

The day before, against Northeast, Broadneck coach Mark Stover didn't pitch Ryan or his No. 2 pitcher, Chris Sutch, and instead gave the ball to seldom-used Dan Lynch. Northeast rolled, 9-2, and Ryan stopped the Bulldogs the next day.

Maybe I shouldn't think that Stover was looking out for his buddy, Northeast coach Harry Lentz, but Ryan started the following Monday at Arundel. Since when is two days' rest better than three days' rest?

Still, Crandell didn't cry about such little games that occur occasionally within the coaching ranks, but rather talked about how proud he is of his kids.

"They came up here today [Monday at Northeast] expecting to win," said Crandell.

"Sometimes you hug the bear, and sometimes the bear hugs you, but I'm thrilled about the growth of our club. We gained respect this year."

Southern sure did with victories over fifth-ranked Old Mill, 5-4, and two previously ranked teams, Broadneck, 7-1, and North County, 7-4.

In last year's 5-13 season, Southern suffered five one-run losses, but gained the respectability Crandell talked about when he accepted the job.

He has accomplished that by putting a team that knows how to play on the field. What's exciting for Crandell is that only two starters -- second baseman Billy McGee and third baseman Rob Herrin -- are seniors.

Starting pitcher Kirk Rogers is a junior right-hander and most of ,, the team was made up of juniors, including leadoff batter and center fielder Wayne Small. Small hit .361, and Rogers, who hits third, batted .500.

Crandell also had a distant cousin in the lineup, freshman shortstop Scott Crandell, who was called up from the JV last week. Young Crandell never got a chance in the field against Northeast, but should next season.

In fact, all of the Bulldogs might get their big chance next year.

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