COLLEGE PARK — When Nick Karls was a little kid, he watched Chesapeake baseball play with hunger. Now, he’s a big part of the Cougars’ proud legacy. On Tuesday, his arm lifted the Cougars to its first state championship game appearance since 2017.
After some early defensive stumbles, Chesapeake marked up University of Maryland’s Bob Smith Stadium with hits in every thinkable spot to beat Thomas Johnson, 6-2, in a Class 3A state semifinal. The Cougars play Towson at 7 p.m. Saturday in the 3A state championship for a chance to win their first title since 2014.
“It means so much to me to be able to bring this team together,” Karls said. “It just makes me so happy with what we’ve been doing here. All of us have played together since we were really young. It’s really coming together and something really special.”
Every run Chesapeake scored came with two outs. To Karls, that exemplified his team.
“We scratch. We’re a scrappy team,” Karls said. “We fight to the end and we really, really want to win this for everyone in Pasadena.”
Karls amassed 10 strikeouts in his 6 1/3 innings while going 2-for-4 at the plate. The coaches took his ball two outs shy of a complete game to limit him to 75 pitches, planning his return to the bump on Saturday.
“This year, he’s been able to showcase how dominant he is,” first-year coach Jeff Young said. “With last year’s shortened season, he wasn’t able to show everyone how good he is. And now as the stage gets bigger and bigger, he just he gets to perform and more people get to see him.”
Chesapeake needed Karls at his best Tuesday, because if the Cougars thought their lone run in the bottom of the first would be enough, they were mistaken.
In the top of the second, two Patriots runners manned first and second base with no outs. Junior Ty Allen popped a bunt that Chesapeake threw into the bleachers, allowing a run home.
Then, shortstop Sean Carroll and catcher Owen Schmidt tried to pin Jacob Hnath between third and home, but lost track of him and allowed the go-ahead to score.
“Probably just jitters,” Young said of the inning. “We’ll work through them before Saturday night.”
The Patriots put more runners on via error in the top of the third. The Cougars needed something to supercharge their defense — and got it. With one out, third baseman Dillon Stevens gathered a ground ball and flipped it to second baseman Cole Parsons, who turned it to first baseman Brendan Phillips to end the inning with the 5-4-3 double play.
Now, Chesapeake just needed runs.
Carter Drab raced toward first base trying to beat the throw from short, but the throw flinched off Allen’s glove and Phillips scampered home. But tying things wasn’t good enough for Chesapeake.
If Carroll had been in a high school field, his moonshot to left field would’ve likely exited the ballpark. It accomplished what it could on a college field, landing for a double bringing two more runs home, giving the Cougars a 4-2 advantage.
Back ahead, Karls struck out the next three Patriots and two out of three in the following inning.
“It gave me momentum. I know my team is always behind me,” he said. “If we do make mistakes — which happens in baseball — I know I trust everyone behind me and we’re gonna fight back. We never quit.”
Schmidt (2-for-3) was disappointed that he was thrown out at home in the third inning. He wanted a run. Coming to bat in the fourth inning, he drilled a shot hard up the left-field line, sending Karls home for a 5-2 lead.
But Schmidt wanted to touch the plate himself
In the sixth inning, as yet another throw flew over the Thomas Johnson first baseman’s glove, Schmidt got his wish, scoring in the sixth and final Chesapeake run.
“It’s been a great group. They come in. They listen, they do what you ask at home and they just compete,” Young said. “Whether they get behind or whatever [happens in game], and I just couldn’t be more proud of them.”