Hammond's Jeff Price pitched two-hit ball through six innings and closer John Yezek worked a 1-2-3 seventh to lead the third-seeded Bears past fourth-seeded Hereford, 5-1, in the Class 2A, Region II final yesterday at Dundalk Community College.
It was the eighth straight win for the Bears, who advanced to Tuesday's state semifinals with a 14-5 mark. Hammond will be seeded fourth and will meet top-seeded Rockville at McCurdy Field in Frederick or Dundalk Community College.
Yesterday's loss ended Hereford's nine-game winning streak as it closed out its season at 13-5.
It isn't often a strikeout victim scores the winning run, but that was the case yesterday. The game-winner came with the score tied at 1 in the bottom of the fourth.
Joe Brewer swung and missed at a third strike in the dirt, but reached first when the ball got past Hereford catcher Josh Rholfs.
Justin Lavis' sacrifice moved Brewer to second. Robbie Laing followed with a sharp come-backer to pitcher Bobby Ignatowski, who hesitated before throwing high past third trying to get Brewer.
The throwing error scored Brewer and put Laing on second. He later scored on a ground out by Jay Cannell to make it 3-1.
That's all Price and Yezek would need. After allowing an unearned run in the first, Price was nearly untouchable through six as only two Hereford batters reached base and none past first. Yezek ended it with a strikeout and two ground-ball outs.
"He [Price] throws a lot of knuckleballs and we knew Hereford was a fastball-hitting team. He got a lot of ground balls and we played some solid defense behind him," said Hammond coach Bob Maxey.
"I felt we just out-fielded them, out-hit them and out-pitched them today. The kids are really gaining the confidence they need to get to the next level."
Hammond added two runs in the sixth. Jeff Busick drove in the first with a single and Brewer followed with a sacrifice fly. The inning started with a misplayed infield pop.
"The bottom line is we make the plays we're supposed to make, we win the ballgame," said Hereford third-year coach George Cooper.
"We're a solid club but we just made some errors today that cost us. I'm proud of the guys -- they made Hereford proud today."
It was the third straight region playoff appearance by Hereford, which never had qualified for postseason play previously.