Kurt Weitzel has earned a reputation as one of Howard County's top pitchers by winning tight games.
Yesterday in the Class 3A, Region III semifinals against top-seeded Southern of Baltimore, the Centennial right-hander got a rare present -- a sizable early lead.
Weitzel stayed true to form after that. Combining a good fastball and a nasty forkball with excellent location, Weitzel stared down a Southern lineup with six .400 hitters by pitching a complete-game six-hitter, as Centennial cruised to a 6-1 victory at Swann Park.
The victory sends the fourth-seeded Eagles (12-7) into today's Region III final against second-seeded Carver at Druid Hill Park.
"Since we've played so many close games, it's got to be a plus for us. We're used to pressure games," Centennial coach Ron Martin said. "Today was the most relaxed we've felt going into the seventh inning in a long time."
The Eagles jumped on Southern starter Kenny Tolodziecki (5-2) quickly.
Brian Dowell led off the game with a booming triple to left-center. Dowell scored when the next hitter, Jason Babcock, tripled to right-center. Weitzel singled home Babcock, and Weitzel scored on a wild pitch. By the time Tolodziecki recorded his first out, the Eagles led 3-0.
Weitzel, who went 3-for-4, singled in his second at-bat and scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-0 in the third.
"We were confident we would win this game, because our pitching has kept us in games all year, and our offense has the potential to explode at any time," Weitzel said. "I felt even more confident after that first inning."
Weitzel improved to 7-3 and lowered his ERA to 1.65. After surrendering Southern's run in the third inning, he allowed two hits over the next three innings. In the seventh, the Bulldogs put runners on first and second with one out, but Weitzel struck out Jason Peters on a curveball, then induced Troy Scott to pop up to end the game. Weitzel walked one and struck out seven.
While Weitzel had the Bulldogs shaking their heads at the plate, the Eagles continued to pad their lead. With two out in the fifth, Matt Lynch walked, stole second and scored on Joey Mellendick's single to make it 5-1. In the sixth, Babcock walked, went to third on Weitzel's bloop single, then scored on David Hudson's sacrifice fly.