Francis Scott Key was going up against an awful lot of tradition yesterday morning, not to mention a Brunswick team that already had beaten the Eagles twice in the regular season.
The third-seeded Railroaders already had set a state mark with their third straight state title last year and were aiming for an unprecedented fifth consecutive region title entering the Class 1A, Region II final at Dundalk Community College.
In the bottom of the third, they showed why they have won three straight state titles. After Key took a 1-0 lead in the top of the inning, the Railroaders (13-7) answered with two runs to take control en route to a 5-1 win and that fifth straight region title.
Brunswick pitcher Jason Ricketts, who drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the third, got his 10th victory as he scattered four hits and didn't allow a Key player past first base in the final three innings.
Key manufactured a run in the third to take a 1-0 lead. Pitcher Jason Smith singled past third to open the inning and then Jesse Haas came in to run for him.
Haas stole second and moved to third on a sacrifice by Erin Brilhart. Leadoff hitter Rick Hooper then put down a suicide squeeze bunt to score Haas.
The lead had the Eagles believing they could pull off the upset, but it wouldn't last long.
With one out in the Brunswick third, Brian Swigger hit a pop behind second that second baseman Dave Johnson lost in the swirling wind. Matt Morton followed with a double to left to put runners on second and third.
Greg Barnes tied the game with a run-scoring single and Ricketts drove in what proved to be the game-winner with a sacrifice fly.
"That was crucial," said Key coach Bob Caples. "If we'd have shut them down in that inning we'd have been in good shape. In my opinion, we'd have won the ballgame."
The Eagles (10-10) were only heard from one more time the rest of the way and it came in the fourth. With runners on first and third and two out, Mark Smith hit a sinking fly ball that Barnes did a great job of getting to in center.
"They were tough," said Caples. "I'm not disappointed in the game. We played hard, but just didn't get the breaks. We had some bad luck getting to a few of their liners and they made some nice plays on ours -- that's baseball."
Brunswick broke it open with a three-run sixth. Barnes opened with a bunt single, Ricketts followed with a bunt that third baseman Matt Haines bobbled and then threw wide of first, enabling Barnes to score.
Ricketts later would score on a double-steal play after Dwain Stockman singled. He scored the final run on a squeeze bunt by Rick George.
Jason Smith went the whole way for the Eagles and pitched admirably in his final high school effort, allowing just two earned runs on seven hits.
"We were prepared to see a good pitcher today," said Brunswick coach Roger Dawson. "Key was ready to play today and we knew they'd be ready. We got some clutch hitting from the guys we've counted on all year."
Despite the loss, Caples was pleased with the Eagles' 10-win season and second straight region final appearance.
"To go 10-10 with the competition we faced this season, you've got to be happy with that," he said.