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Bel Air beats Quince Orchard for 4A baseball title

For The Baltimore Sun

The Bel Air baseball team cleared hurdle after hurdle this postseason on the strength of pitching that simply overwhelmed several worthy opponents.

On Friday night, the Bobcats finally crossed the finish line, running headfirst into their third state title and first in Class 4A.

Left-hander Jack Jenkens pitched five strong innings and leadoff hitter Liam Bowers had three hits, including a two-run double as part of a six-run sixth, as No. 6 Bel Air surged to an 8-1 win over Montgomery County's Quince Orchard at Maryland.

Despite a partisan Quince Orchard crowd, the Bobcats seemed to get stronger as the game went on.

"We talked about getting ourselves ready to play and then blocking everything else out," Bel Air coach John Swanson said. "It's one pitch at a time, one out at a time, one inning at a time. When you break it down into those small chunks, you're trying to get your guys ready for success, and I think that's what you saw tonight."

The win gave Bel Air (19-4) its first state title since 2013, when the Bobcats won the second of their two 3A championships.

This time, their journey was nothing if not spectacular.

"We met as a team before playoffs started and just focused in and set the tone," Jenkens said.

Heading into Friday, the Harford County power had won its previous five playoff games by a combined 34-1, including victories over Kenwood, Catonsville and Howard, each of which spent time in The Baltimore Sun's poll in recent weeks.

This time, the Bobcats turned a tight game into a rout in the sixth, sending 10 batters to the plate and scoring six runs. Bowers, Jenkens and Luke Beyers had run-scoring hits in the inning, as Bel Air knocked starter Nick Wong out of the game.

Until then, the Bobcats had been clinging to a one-run lead.

Jenkens, two years removed from missing his entire sophomore season with an MCL injury, struggled with his control early but got out of jams by inducing inning-ending double plays in each of the first two innings.

The Shippensburg-bound senior, who entered the night with a 1.51 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .207 average, also got help from his offense.

Bel Air loaded the bases on Wong with no outs in the first, taking a 1-0 lead on Luke Beyers' sacrifice fly to left.

The Bobcats extended their lead in the third with one out when Beyers walked, stole second and, two batters later, scored on Zack Radcliff's blooper to center to make it 2-0.

Jenkens, however, ran into more trouble in the third, hitting leadoff batter Sean Cole, who later scored on Nick Moon's double to right-center.

Quince Orchard, which saw its eight-game winning streak end, made a bid to pull even in the fifth, putting a runner at second with two outs before senior Matt Ferretti ended the threat with a diving catch in right.

Right-hander Mike Yetter took over for Jenkens after he walked the leadoff batter in the sixth. With runners on second and third with two outs, he got Wong to foul out to catcher Andrew Cotton, ending the threat.

"They know how to pitch," Swanson said. "Those guys have been in big games, and they know what it takes to get it done. It's just fun to watch."

Bel Air then exploded for six runs in the sixth. The scoring started when, with runners on second and third with no outs, Cole Slembecker pushed a sacrifice bunt attempt between first and second, and the Cougars' first baseman couldn't find the bag on the throw.

Three batters later, with runners on second and third, Bowers doubled to the wall in center, and the rout was on.

"We love to have those late-inning bursts," Bowers said. "If you look at our scorecards, it happens a lot."

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