Matt Jones remembers sitting at the front of the bus for road games with classmate Tim Jackman always right there next to him.
The two didn't mind, instead enjoying the ride.
"The seniors always grabbed the back seats and we'd be left with whatever was open. Tim and I just kept to ourselves and tried to keep from offending anyone," Jones said.
The year was 1995 and both were sophomores called up after a few games on the junior varsity to play with one of the most talented senior-laden teams South Carroll has ever produced.
The ride didn't end until Broadneck pitcher Robert Wakefield quieted the mighty Cavaliers lineup with a 2-1 win in the Class 3A state final at Joe Cannon Stadium in Harmans.
"I'll never forget that game, there was so much energy and excitement that night," said Jones. "Going down there my sophomore year gave me a goal to get back there."
The No. 18 Cavaliers, with their senior co-captains Jones and Jackman taking center stage, are working on it. They're off to a 9-1 start and finding different ways to win the close games, leaving a strong impression there could be another magical run in the works.
First baseman Jones, batting .407 as the cleanup hitter, mostly played in the outfield two years ago when he was 30 pounds lighter. Jackman, hitting .417 with a team-high 13 RBIs in the fifth spot, anchors the infield at shortstop after playing second base as a sophomore.
In the '95 season, the two were at the bottom of a lineup that piled up 33 runs and 41 hits in the three playoff games going into the final.
"There were so many guys around me, I knew I just had to do my little part and the big hitters would do the rest," Jackman said. "I was glad to get a chance to play with them. It was definitely one of the best teams to come out of South Carroll."
Cavaliers coach Brad Collins said the two had much more than a little part in that success. After a fast start, the Cavaliers dropped two straight and looked particularly poor in a loss to Linganore.
"That game we looked terrible and right after, some of the seniors came up and said 'Coach, we need to do something about this.' That's when I called them up," Collins said. "We had a lot of power and two strong arms, but were hurting on defense. We needed to add someone to shore up our infield and also an outfielder who could make the shoe-string catch. I knew Tim and Matt would fit in with the group. They were students of the game, worked hard and made a difference."
Collins remembers the two making an immediate impact.
"We had Matt playing first base one game and after digging out two balls in the dirt, he came up the next inning and hit a double. Here I'm thinking 'Please don't drop those balls and please don't strike out' and he does that," Collins said. "And in a big game against Westminster, Tim had three or four straight putouts in a row -- great plays. You could see the confidence grow."
Jones and Jackman are different, aside from both wanting to do whatever it takes to help South Carroll win. Their talks on the bus were not surprisingly geared toward baseball -- Jones being a New York Yankees fan and Jackman cheering for the Orioles.
And while Jackman came up to varsity as relaxed and confident as one could expect from a sophomore, Jones was a bit overwhelmed.
"I was pretty intimidated. There were a lot of big guys on that team," Jones said. "They were all real nice guys, though, and very helpful. Everyone picked everyone up."
Now, it's their turn to be the leaders and they're doing the part.
"They've helped me out a lot," said sophomore center fielder/pitcher Kevin Damiano. "When I came up, they gave me confidence and I know they probably felt the same way, nervous and all, when they were sophomores. It's very important to have senior leaders who have been there."
This year's team doesn't have the offensive firepower the 1995 team had. Instead, it is relying on strong pitching, stringing together singles and doing the little things that can make a difference.
One similarity is team unity. Finding a way to win the close games is another. The Cavaliers have already come away with 2-1 wins over county rivals Liberty and Westminster.
"This year, we've done a lot more physical training and at the end of some games, we're still fresh and haven't made the mental mistakes that lose games," Jackman said. "Playing in that final game, I know what it takes to get there and how it feels to be there, so I'm trying to help the others with things I've learned the past couple of years."
One of the things Jackman learned as a sophomore was the seniors would often make him carry the equipment.
"Yeah, I always have to carry something, unless I'm pitching, but that's the only time I don't," said Damiano. "I don't mind. I know when I'm a senior I'll make the sophomores do the same thing."
Pub Date: 4/20/97