Gerstell Academy’s baseball players spent some time Thursday afternoon inside their school, utilizing the athletic facility’s batting cage since weather kept them from having practice on their home field.
It had to have felt like the first time in weeks the Falcons weren’t on a diamond somewhere in the area, but such is life when you’re trying to make an impressive postseason run and win a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference championship by coming out of the consolation bracket.
Gerstell is 12-10 and winners of three playoff games so far. The Falcons lost their second postseason contest, meaning one more loss and their season was over. That hasn’t happened just yet, however — coach Cap Poklemba said his players changed their outlook a few weeks ago, and a fresh start has been the difference.
“We kind of refocused,” said Poklemba, whose Falcons started the year 1-5. “We’ve got five seniors, and I said, ‘This is most of your last opportunities to play baseball competitively.’ I said, ‘Everybody needs to reset. And right now it’s about fun. Enjoy every day you get to go out on this baseball field, because all too soon it’s gone.’
“Ever since we did that, and that shift of enjoying baseball every day, enjoying the opportunity to play, there’s no more pressure.”
Poklemba said he didn’t think many expected the Falcons to qualify for the postseason, let alone be sitting one game away from reaching the MIAA B finals. Gerstell needed to claw its way into the tournament as the No. 6 seed by finishing 9-9 in the regular season.
The Falcons won four out of seven games to make it, and opened the playoffs with a 7-4 win May 11 over St. John’s Catholic Prep. Glenelg Country School blanked Gerstell three days later, but the loss hasn’t fazed the Falcons.
They shut out St. Vincent Pallotti 2-0 on May 15, after losing to Panthers twice during the regular season, then defeated Severn 8-4 at Johns Hopkins University the following day.
Gerstell now faces Glenelg Country for a second time in the playoffs in another elimination game. It’s set for Friday, and Poklemba said the site could be moved to Hopkins or Calvert Hall in Towson if Glenelg Country’s field is unplayable. The Falcons dropped their regular-season series to the Dragons, but each game was decided by one run.
Regardless of where his team plays, the fifth-year coach said he likes the atmosphere surrounding it right now.
“A loose team is a dangerous team,” Poklemba said.
The quintet of seniors — Tyrin Hawkins, Matthew Nevin, Matt Nowakowski, Brennan Sedney, and Matthew Szedlock — has been Gerstell’s strength this year, Poklemba said.
Max Friedman leads Carroll County with a .530 batting average, and the junior adds seven doubles and 22 RBIs. Reece Early, another junior, has four home runs, 10 doubles and 24 RBIs, a team high, along with a .439 average.
Sedney comes in at a .435 clip and has 11 doubles, tops on the team. Szedlock is batting .400.
“All we’re trying to do is just have fun,” Friedman said. “That’s how we’re playing our best baseball.”
Gerstell moved up a level this spring after competing in the C Conference and reaching the final in 2017. Poklemba said the competition is better overall, but Gerstell needed a little time to adjust to the B Conference. Add in a rash of road games to open things up, along with the constant threat of rescheduling games, and the Falcons have been challenged from the start.
Bring it on, Early said.
“These games have all been big,” he said. “We’re just happy that we’re in the playoffs. … Might as well keep going.”