For the entirety of Wednesday evening’s 3A East, Section I title game between host Reservoir and River Hill, Josh Mann stood his ground unflinchingly.
From the first at-bat to the last, the Gators uncorked sharply hit line-drives, rocket comebackers, and deployed aggressive base running, but with Mann leading the charge, the Hawks defense absorbed the bombardment with one task in mind.
A little less than a month ago, Reservoir manhandled River Hill and picked apart Mann, who took the loss in an 8-1 defeat. Round two ended differently, however.
Mann pitched a complete-game shutout on Wednesday to lead River Hill past Reservoir, 8-0, and into the 3A East region title game at Chesapeake-AA on Friday. It will be the Hawks’ first region final appearance since 2009, the same year they won the 3A state championship.
“Revenge is the sweetest thing in the world,” said Mann, who punched out five batters and scattered seven hits and four walks all while stranding 14 base runners. “Especially in the playoffs like this, when you can end their season. But we played awesome today, the team played awesome. We did what we needed to do. Now I think we can make a run.”
In the 8-1 loss to the Gators on April 20, Mann surrendered eight runs (three earned) on eight hits and struggled to locate pitches, spelling trouble up in the zone. Like he has for most of the 2017 season, Mann returned to familiar form, clambering out of pressure-packed situations without much fret.
“He got hit hard last time we played Reservoir,” River Hill coach Wes McCoy said. “He wanted to come out and prove he’s a competitive pitcher. … He worked low in the zone today, and stayed out of the middle of the plate.”
After River Hill (16-5) scored one in the top of the first inning off a Reservoir (16-5) error, Mann wiggled out of trouble in the bottom half. He stranded two base runners and his confidence kept building in the last six innings.
“Fighting out of that jam was the big one,” Mann said of first inning. “Later in the game, I felt more comfortable getting out of those situations. I just spotted the ball and our defense made a lot of plays.”
River Hill put three more runs on the board in the top of the second to make it 4-0. Two reached on errors and then Anthony Richards cleared the bases with a double to deep center field.
Then, after surrendering a leadoff walk and a double to start the bottom of the second, Mann closed the inning with a strikeout, a grounder to the mound and and a lineout to left field to preserve the four-run lead.
River Hill blew it open with four more runs in the top of the sixth to swell its cushion to 8-0 after putting six of its first seven players on base. In the meantime, Mann continued to work out of tough situations.
In the third inning, with runners on first and second base, Mann snagged a comebacker and flipped it over to first base for an inning-ending double play.
“[Mann] made some great plays today,” Reservoir coach Adam Leader said. “If those balls go up the middle, we could be talking about something different right now.”
Mann followed with a four-at-bat fourth inning and got out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth inning. He stranded two more runners in the sixth and induced one last groundout to strand the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh.
Overall, Reservoir committed five errors, four of which led to runs. UMBC commit Max Goron struck out six and lasted 5 1/3 innings, allowing six runs (two earned), three hits and two walks.
Oddly enough, the Gators outhit River Hill, 6-4, but failed to score a run.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Leader said. “Unfortunately, baseball is a game where sometimes you can hit the ball hard with guys on base and sometimes it’s right at somebody. Yesterday it wasn’t that day, and today, we had guys in scoring in position, hit the ball hard, and it was right at people. I just told the guys just now, that’s the weird thing about baseball. Yesterday we ripped the ball and found holes, and today, we ripped the ball and it was right at people.
“The guys never gave up. In that last inning, they put the ball in play when they could’ve rolled over and played dead. I’m proud of them for that.”
2A West, Section II final:
Marriotts Ridge (19-3) — 3, Century — 2
The Mustangs scored three runs in the third and right fielder Max Mahon threw out the potential tying run at the plate to end the game and advance to the 2A West regional championship game for the second straight year.
Century scored first off a home run in the second inning. Hunter Reeling led off the third with a single to left and stole second, and Jake Dinoto’s grounder to the shortstop was thrown away and allowed Reeling to score the first run. Josh Olsufka (2-for-3) followed with a 2-run home run to right-center field to make it 3-1.
Dylan Anagnos struck out six and allowed one run and five hits in five innings of work. Gunnar Barnard pitched the final two innings, striking out one and allowed one run on four hits.
Marriotts Ridge, which has won 12 straight games, will host Middletown at 3 p.m. Friday in the 2A West regional championship game.