The Harford Tech baseball team has spent most of this season dealing with adversity off the field. Players said illnesses to two of their coaches ultimately brought them closer together.
Yesterday in the Class 1A state final, however, that unity couldn't quite overcome St. Michaels.
Staked to a one-run lead entering the seventh, Harford Tech, hurt by a throwing error at second, allowed two runs, the final one coming on a game-winning infield single by Kevin Gowe with the bases loaded and two outs that resulted in a deflating 4-3 loss at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen.
"We knew from the first day of practice that we had something special going," Harford Tech interim coach Billy Jones said. "Today at the end, things didn't fall our way, but I just can't express how great a group this is."
Given what the Cobras already have experienced, recovering from the loss yesterday in the state final seems relatively tame. Just days before the opening of practice, coach Johnny Watson learned he would require heart surgery, and eventually underwent a quadruple bypass. Assistant Ken Culver then was diagnosed with cancer and has since been undergoing treatment.
Watson's condition hit players particularly hard.
"We didn't really understand what was going on [with Watson]," said Chris Peacher, the Cobras' starting pitcher yesterday, "but once we found out he was going to be OK ... he worked hard to get back here, and we worked hard to make it worth it."
Peacher pitched a complete game for Harford Tech (15-8), which was making its second straight appearance in the state final four. His effort matched that of St. Michaels freshman Adam Parks, who went the distance and also went 2-for-3 with a triple for the Saints (18-5).
"I was trying to throw strikes and let our defense play," said Parks, who finished the season 9-0. "Just put it in there and let them hit it."
Early on, each pitcher helped his cause with a big hit.
Trailing 1-0 in the second inning after Jared West's RBI double, St. Michaels tied the score when Parks tripled over center field Jason Young. Two batters later, pinch runner Jake Fluharty scored on Cody Joseph's squeeze bunt.
The Cobras regained the lead in the top of the third when Peacher tripled down the line in left, scoring Chase Gardner from first, then scored himself on an errant relay from short.
Harford Tech held that 3-2 lead until the seventh. The Talbot County team got a runner to second when Kyle McKelvey singled and advanced on a throwing error. He scored on Michael Turner's single to center.
The Saints then loaded the bases, setting the stage for Gowe.
"I was up there looking fastball," Gowe said. "It was the biggest hit of my life."