It might have been a premature celebration in terms of winning the title, but it wasn't in terms of the importance of Northern's 5-3 victory at Edmondson yesterday.
Left-hander Kenny Estep pitched a nifty three-hitter with 13 strikeouts and three walks on 112 pitches to deal the Redskins the crucial loss. Leadoff batter and center fielder Tyler Blackston was 3-for-4 for the victors with a double, two runs scored and two RBIs.
Estep, a 6-foot-5, 165-pound junior, struck out Terrance Arder swinging with a runner aboard to end the game, setting off a championship-like celebration by the Northern players, coach and parents.
The Vikings (10-2) all but clinched the Baltimore City B Conference title in what was a matchup of the top two teams in the league. Northern needs one win out of its two makeup games tomorrow and Thursday with Northwestern and Forest Park to claim the crown.
Or if Edmondson loses one of its two makeups, Northern could lose both.
"We can actually afford to still lose one more game and still win the conference, " said second-year Northern coach Harry Gray, who was a second baseman under Manny Werner on the school's last baseball conference champion in 1988.
Edmondson is 9-3, but lost two of three to Northern, which could lose one game and win by the tiebreaker criteria.
A nasty, biting curve with a downward tail, a sneaky fastball and timely changeup were the pitches Estep used to keep the Redskins off-balance all afternoon. His teammates built him a 5-0 lead that would prove insurmountable .
"We've had problems with him all three times because we don't see many left-handers, " said Redskins coach Tai Thompson, a probation officer for 25 years who is stepping down as coach after this season to concentrate on his "stop the violence" program in Baltimore City.
"But we're young, start six ninth-graders. They'll be back strong next year."
Estep (4-1) pitched no-hit baseball through five innings with 10 strikeouts before Arder led off the sixth with an infield hit.
"My curveball was working great today so I used it more, " said Estep. "When I'm on top of my game, I throw better strikes."
A topped ball by Arder down third was unplayable and led to another infield hit by Antoine Welch on which the former scored the Redskins' first run. Welch came home on Donovan Myers' single to right before Estep got the final out of the inning.
After scoring single runs in the first, second and fifth innings on two RBIs by Melvin Hodges and Blackston's first, Northern added two runs in the sixth to make it 5-0.
The last three runs came off Welch, who switching catching position with Arder, who had pitched the first three innings for Edmondson.