Parker Thomas remembered.
Two years ago, then a sophomore in an Archbishop Spalding baseball uniform, he could hardly watch as Gilman celebrated winning the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship. His catcher Ethan McNally, also a sophomore then, comforted him. Together, they vowed to never let it happen in the championship game again.
And they haven’t.
Thomas’ final pitch of his high school career bounced to an infielder, and seconds later, two dozen players and coaches donning red and black streamed out of the dugout and buried the winning pitcher beneath them to celebrate the Cavaliers’ 2-0 win over Calvert Hall that secured their second straight MIAA A Conference title and sixth overall.
“Today is incredible. I want these moments every single day in my life,” Thomas said. “We came on top in a battle.”
The No. 4 Cardinals (18-13) and No. 2 Cavaliers (22-6) cruised through 4 1/2 innings of scoreless baseball with only a few hits between them. But the tide shifted when, in the third inning, McNally (2-for-3) batted for the second time and confidently crushed a sharp line drive to left for a single.
It was a warning shot.
“I knew they had to throw them. I just had to be ready for them. First at-bat, I got a good piece, just rolled up a little bit to the shortstop,” said McNally, a James Madison commit. “I just adjusted from there.”
Spalding coach Joe Palumbo liked what he saw from his catcher all week, so when McNally stepped to the plate again in the bottom of the fifth with two runners on, both coach and senior were confident.
“If it’s up the middle, it’s gonna be something,” McNally said.
With a sharp crack, McNally’s shot blasted into center field. Cardinals outfielders chased the bouncing ball helplessly. And McNally’s little brother, Jack, streaked across home plate for what would be the only run Spalding needed.
“For him to get in that position, and then for me to come behind him. It was amazing. Words can’t describe,” Ethan McNally said. “It’s a memory we’ll share for the rest of our lives.”
But Spalding was not done. Outfielder Brayden Marrocco bolted from third base the moment Calvert Hall’s Patrick Genco’s pitch skipped to the backstop for the Cavaliers’ second run
One run of support was all Thomas needed on this night. He pitched masterfully, allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out eight in seven scoreless innings. Even in the sixth and seventh, when his command dulled from his knife-sharp control, his defensive instincts didn’t. When Cardinals shortstop Jake Butler hit a grounder to try to move a runner up, Thomas snagged it and hustled to first base for a key out.
And when Thomas didn’t have his hand on the ball, a talented defense loaded with experience and love and trust in one another did.
Thomas struck out four batters first. Then, in the top of the third, Marrocco dove in center field for an out.
“We harp on our defense. You make good defense, scrap some runs — it gives you a chance,” Ethan McNally said. “That’s what we did this year, and that’s what we did today. Defense made plays, and our hitters came up when the time came.”
The characteristics that defined Palumbo’s teams that captured three consecutive championships from 2014 to 2016 are evident in the 2023 squad, he said.
“A winning attitude, a winning culture: grit, grind, toughness,” Palumbo said. “This group is up there with them. It’s hard to deny that.”
The Cavaliers treasured that mentality through a season that featured a trip to Las Vegas, unwanted losing streaks and, ultimately, a dominating playoff run in which they went 3-0, including a 4-3 win over Calvert Hall on Wednesday to reach the final. When Spalding won the MIAA A Conference title after going 17-0 in conference play a year ago, the then-juniors turned to each other then and promised it would be their turn — again — as seniors.
“We grinded all year. Last year’s team was unbelievable. This year’s team was battle-tested. So many one-run games. And we just kept going every day,” Thomas said. “We won at the right time. We bought in, and this is where we are now.”
They kept that mindset Sunday as they watched two teams that were projected to win their championships — Key in the C Conference and Gerstell in the B Conference — fall, forced to fight another day. But the Cavaliers shook off the omens and put faith behind their coaches, their game plan and their pitcher.
“They just weren’t going to be denied tonight. Those other two teams opened our eyes, and I think we just had the mentality that we were not going to let it happen to us,” Palumbo said. “We were going to close it out tonight. And obviously, Parker was a big part of the reason we were able to do that.”
The boys who rushed their plaque over to the scoreboard to pose under it for photos, who sang Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” together instead of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” — most of them will never play together again. The entire starting rotation, which includes Thomas, as well as McNally and a slew of other seniors are bound for Division I schools.
But they’re bound together, forever.
“Two championships. A legacy of excellence. I told them yesterday: You win this one, you’re remembered forever,” Palumbo said. “In alumni magazines, in banners. They’ll take pride in that 2023 every time they sit on campus from now on.”