North Caroline was twice a state semifinalist in previous seasons, but yesterday's game against Lansdowne was the Bulldogs' first appearance in the Class 2A championship game.
That inexperience was not evident, however, in the poise displayed by first-year coach Tom Keating and winning pitcher Rusty Rostein, one of only four seniors who started in an 8-1 shutdown of the Vikings at Joe Cannon Stadium in Harmans.
"I coached American Legion Post 29, and about five of these guys went to states with me, where we got our butts handed to us because we got caught up in all the glory," said Keating, 27. "We only lose three position players, so we'll be back."
The Bulldogs (15-7), from the city of Ridgely in the Eastern Shore's Caroline County, were led by Rostein, who showed why he entered the game with a 1.09 earned run average. Going primarily with a sneaky curve, he scattered five hits, walked two batters and struck out seven to improve his season's record to 5-1.
"My curveball was working for me pretty good, and I managed to stay ahead in a lot of the counts," Rostein said. "Plus, we don't usually get the leads that we got today, and that helped me out a lot, confidence-wise."
Rostein was staked to a 6-0 lead over the first two innings, as senior Daniel Fuchs (2-for-3 with a walk) nailed a first-inning, two-run single, and senior Kendall Cannon sparked a four-run second with his 385-foot two-run homer.
Junior cleanup hitter Adam Peix grounded out with the bases loaded in the first inning, but went 3-for-3 with a double, a run scored and an RBI the rest of the way.
The Bulldogs' Will McNatt had a hit and two RBIs as the Eastern Shore squad exhausted four different Lansdowne pitchers, including two left-handers.
Lansdowne's Tom Zimmerman had gone 3-for-4 with a pair of three-run homers in Friday's 12-2 semifinal rout of Howard, but struck out all three times at bat yesterday.
"He [Rostein] was a good pitcher," said Zimmerman. "He confused me with his curve. Everything we hit went right at somebody."
The Vikings (16-5), who start only two seniors themselves, scored their only run in the fifth inning on their third hit of the game, by freshman Cliff Zimmerman. Jon Brunelle went 2-for-3 for Lansdowne.
"We gave up six walks, a hit batter and a balk in the first two innings, and that's been our problem all year," said outgoing Lansdowne coach Dave Wright, a veteran who did not elaborate why he will not return to the Vikings.
"What I will say publicly is that I have 286 wins [in high school coaching] and I'm not ready to stop coaching," he said. "Because of some things that have happened at Lansdowne, I don't think I should stay there as a coach."
Lansdowne lost 11-10 to Loch Raven in the regional title game. But the Vikings and Howard High got semifinal berths after Loch Raven and Atholton both were forced to forfeit for using pitchers who had exceeded their maximum number of innings allowed.
Lansdowne beat Howard on Friday, sending Wright and longtime assistant Art Brown to yesterday's title game.
Lansdowne beat Centennial for the 3A crown in 1993 for its first state title one year after finishing as a runner-up.
Pub Date: 5/24/98