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18th annual Crab Claw Classic gives high school baseball players chance to shine during pandemic

As sports gradually return to Anne Arundel County, baseball had its moment in the (partial) sun on Sunday.

The 18th annual Crab Claw Classic hosted 38 ballplayers from Maryland and nearby states at Joe Cannon Stadium in Severn to pit the All-Maryland High School All-Stars team against the All-Mid-Atlantic High School All-Stars, who carried out a 10-6 victory.

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The players were chosen for Sunday’s game during a skills combine Saturday, as is the norm for the event that’s nearly spanned over two decades and always under the organization of Old Mill graduate, former Texas Rangers player and current Major League Baseball scout Lou Holcomb.

In front of a crowd of about 100, the game played down on the field looked like something normal – a boost for the high school players still seeking a future in baseball at the next level.

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“For the kids, this gives them an opportunity to get seen, to be able to continue to play baseball,” said All-Maryland coach Mike Wineke, an assistant at Calvert Hall. "Most guys are still training, trying to still work and navigate through this to be prepared for when the season does start. … Events like this are good. There’s still college coaches able to come out and take a look, but mostly it gives them an opportunity to play.”

Chesapeake-AA junior Nick Karls has been fortunate. The two-way right-handed pitcher and infielder, who was named this weekend’s top pitcher, played six tournaments over the summer and scheduled eight for the fall. He said he knows not every ballplayer is as fortunate and, in the continued age of limited recruiting and lessened options for competition, events such as Sunday’s classic give high school players much-needed film and attention.

“It’s difficult. Coaches can’t really come out and see you that much. You can still reach out by text and phone calls, but it’s hard. But once stuff starts opening back up, it’ll get a lot easier,” Karls said.

Having to scrap and network his way to a college career during a pandemic is work, but to Karls, it’s still worth it.

“It’s the dream. Playing at the next level. Always thinking you can do it, always trying to better yourself the next day and become a better player – and the looks will come eventually,” Karls said.

He certainly made the best of this chance Sunday, batting 2-for-3 with a single and a double, as well as striking out four and allowing just one hit on the mound. His struck out two straight batters, the last on three pitches, to end his outing.

“Nick’s a great player,” Wineke said. “He’s got a good, bright future. Threw well on the mound and hit the ball well. All around a great baseball player.”

Karls' teammates made the best of his strong first inning. Friends School junior shortstop Wyatt Bordick skated in on a wild pitch to create a 1-0 lead. Bordick, it was later announced, was named the event’s top prospect, as well as Western Tech outfielder Jalen Williams. Calvert Hall third baseman John Harris and Gilman first baseman Riley Holcomb were honored as well as the weekend’s top contact and power hitters from the combine.

After the first inning, Maryland lost its luster as its little lead disintegrated in the top of the third. Four-straight Mid-Atlantic batters walked, including Centennial senior Chris Betler, who put the first of several runs on the board.

North County senior pitcher Carson Lowman then surrendered runs on hits by Isaiah Mongold (Luray, Virginia) and Ryan Blough (Dominion, Virginia), as two more walks that placed Khadeem Lewis (Meadowbrook, Virginia) in the perfect position to extend the lead.

When the dust settled, as Archbishop Curley right-hander Harry Middlebrooks came in to close up the inning, Team Mid-Atlantic led by five.

Lowman, in his second year receiving an invitation to the Crab Claw Classic, has had a “rough” go keeping the attention of recruiters during the pandemic, but said he was fortunate to have a few schools looking at him before the pandemic hit. His work now consists of constantly sending videos out to coaches from every outing he has.

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“Just got to hope for the best,” he said. “Keep hoping one day things will open up and you can play in front of those scouts again.”

As the game waxed on, it seemed as though Maryland would have little response, even as Mid-Atlantic tacked on three more. Only Fallston senior Joe Gizinski, who was also named a top student of Saturday’s combine, could make a dent, plating Karls for the all-home state squad’s second run.

That is, until the eleventh hour — or, the bottom of the seventh.

“I don’t think we made contact as much as we wanted to. Different pitchers coming in every inning or two does play a part. You can’t dial in to a certain guy,” Wineke said.

“[Then], we took advantage of some mistakes they made and scored some runs.”

Virginia catcher Lucas Morrison McCormick (Potomac Valley) knocked out a single that kicked off a three-run rally fueled by run-scoring hits from Gilman juniors Holcomb and Justin Betts, as well as Mount Hebron senior shortstop Josh Barke.

Trailing by three, Team Maryland came to the eighth inning with a fire missing in the previous frames. Karls approached the plate and belted out a single that would soon earn him a ticket across the plate, as Middlebrooks hit the Cougars junior in for Maryland’s sixth run.

Ultimately, that push wouldn’t go far enough, especially as Lewis — who’d earn the game’s Most Outstanding Player award — blasted a solo home run, just two weeks after he’d hit the first homer of his career.

His teammates followed up with two more singles, one of which added yet another run on the board.

Karls and Lowman were the only representatives from Anne Arundel County in Sunday’s game, and two of three from the general area — their teammate, junior shortstop Garrett Griebel hails from Kent Island.

Much of the rest, especially on the Mid-Atlantic side, came from Virginia, as well as New Jersey and Delaware. The players remaining mostly compete for Baltimore-area private schools, with a few representing Howard and Harford counties on their caps.

With so little familiarity, and so little time to get to know his new teammates, Karls could have felt disjointed, but he didn’t.

“You just try to get to know them. You make them your best friends, make it seem like you’ve known them for years,” the Chesapeake junior said. “Just have fun. Just play baseball — just try to compete and show out.”

Likewise, the fast camaraderie of his squad made Wineke’s job easy.

“An event like this that’s a little laidback, we’re not out there putting signs in. They’re on their own out there,” Wineke said. “I think it comes easy for these guys. For me, as a coach, I just make a lineup and let them go play.”

Once fall competitions come to a conclusion, Karls knows there’s still an uncertain future. Currently, an amended spring season is set to begin April 26 and conclude June 19, to accommodate moving the winter and fall seasons completely into 2021. But that could change in the coming weeks because of state superintendent Karen B. Salmon’s announcement last week that high schools could hold fall seasons within a month.

It could also change should the pandemic cause cancellations down the road again.

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“I feel like COVID’s going to be around for a bit, but I don’t think it will affect baseball. Everyone’s been playing now,” Karls said. “I don’t think it’ll get too much worse – if we keep competing and playing, it’ll be okay.”

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