During fifth period at school Friday, mere hours before Reservoir baseball’s showdown against first-place Howard, Gators coach Adam Leader asked his projected starting pitcher a simple question.
“Hey, you ready,” Leader said to junior Trevor Romaine.
“Can’t wait,” Romaine quickly replied.
Reservoir entered the game with just three county losses, putting them right behind Howard and Marriotts Ridge in the league standings. However, the Gators had yet to beat either foe this season. In early April, they suffered back-to-back 7-1 losses, once against each top competitor. Two weeks later, they fell, 6-3, to Marriotts Ridge.
In 15 county contests, those were the only ones in which Reservoir gave up more than two runs.
“If we want to be in the top part of the county, you have to beat the top part of the county, and we haven’t done that,” Leader told his team at practice Wednesday. “Here’s our last opportunity to beat a team that’s at the top of the county.”
Romaine said he and his teammates “had a little fire” in themselves before Friday game, and they released that rage early against Howard before holding on for an 8-3 win. The Gators spoiled the Lions’ bid for a county title by capitalizing on a multitude of defensive mistakes in the third inning. They received a complete game from Romaine, who had the luxury of having a flawless fielding group behind him.
This was a ‘redemption game” for Reservoir, Romaine added, and a win that gives the Gators immense confidence entering Monday’s season finale and beyond.
“We’ve been playing well lately, so we just wanted to keep some momentum going,” Leader said. “We talk all year about the playoffs, and we’ve got to be great going into the playoffs.”
Reservoir (13-3 county, 14-3 overall) already clinched a first-round bye in 3A East, Section I, courtesy of Wednesday’s win over Centennial. The Gators cannot win the county championship — that honor goes to Marriotts Ridge, which is up a game on the Reservoir and own the tiebreaker should the Gators win Monday against Oakland Mills — but they’ll enter the playoffs with, at worst, eight wins over their final 10 games.
Reservoir emerged victorious Friday by jumping on Howard (13-4, 15-5) with its bats. Sophomore EJ Sweet got the scoring started with an RBI single in the second inning, and two batters later, senior Cameron Hyder (2-for-3, two RBI) got hit by a Gabe Delgado pitch with the bases loaded, forcing home the Gators’ second run.
It turned out the Lions’ mistakes were just beginning. They committed four errors in the third inning alone, providing their opponent plenty of extra outs, and Reservoir took advantage. On two straight occasions, the Gators brought home a run with an out, the first a groundout to second from Sweet and then a sacrifice fly to center field by senior Tyler Welch, the No. 9 hitter.
By the time Delgado escaped the inning with a strikeout, Howard found itself in a 7-0 hole.
“We had one really bad inning. You take that inning away where we gave up the five runs and it’s a 3-3 ball game,” Lions coach Nick Hoffner said. “We just did not play well defensively that inning, and we have to make some adjustments going into the playoffs, and we have to play better.”
There were some bright spots for the Lions. They did not make an error outside of the third inning and outhit Reservoir, 11-8. In fact, every hitter in the lineup had a hit, including two each from juniors Cameron Morris and Ryan Kulick.
But they also left eight runners on base — one in each inning aside from the first — and struck out 10 times against Romaine, who fanned every batter he faced at least once.
It was unclear if Romaine would finish the game, as Hyder warmed up to pitch at the top of the seventh inning. But when the bottom of the frame came, Leader turned back to his starter. It took Romaine four batters to clinch the victory.
“Trevor is a great pitcher,” Leader said. “He’s smart, he works hard, but probably the biggest thing is that his heart is huge. He wants the ball every game.”
Reservoir (13-3, 14-3) — 8, Howard (13-4, 15-5) — 3
............123 456 7 R-H-E
Re ….. 025 000 1 8-8-0
Ho ….. 001 020 0 3-11-4