ACCIDENT — After Northern and Allegany pitchers Jake Rush and Grant Cain went pitch-for-pitch early on, it seemed as if, with their pitch counts rising, whoever settled down and got into a groove first would win the game for their team.
Luckily for Huskies head coach Phil Carr, Rush slowly started finding his spots after the second inning and Zach Hallenbeck yielded only one hit in 2 2/3 innings of relief, as Northern defeated the Campers, 7-5, on Friday evening for the Maryland Class 1A West Region I title.
The Campers were all over Rush early on, as Wes Athey reached base in the first on a passed ball after a strikeout and Matt Fuzie followed up with a single up the middle. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch. Athey came in to score on an infield single by Griffin Madden.
In the home half of the inning, Mason Brenneman hit a bloop single and Isaac Bittinger and Chance Ritchey drew two-out walks to load the bases. Landon Broadwater put the Huskies in front on a full count when he tomahawked a high-and-away pitch down the first-base line for a two-run single.
After Cain got a strikeout to end the inning and limit the damage, Allegany got back to work on offense, with Eli Wallace reaching on an infield single before Jacob McClay laced a ball over the centerfielder’s head for a one-out double. Following a strikeout, Athey belted a three-run homer to center to put the Campers back in front, 4-2.
Fuzie reached base again on a single that ricocheted off Rush’s glove, but Rush got a fly out to center to end the frame.
“(Rush) got out of some jams,” said Carr. “And give credit to Cain — he got out of some jams. The one time he had runners on second and third with nobody out and got out of the jam. And Jake had a similar situation the very next inning. I remember standing there saying ‘just give it right back, return the favor.’”
Allegany threatened again in the third, as Madden lined one back up the middle and off of Rush’s glove for a single. After being moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Cayden Bratton, Alex Kennell put runners at the corners with one out.
Following a mound visit, Rush got a pair of strikeouts to keep the Huskies’ deficit at two.
From there, it was all Northern.
Bittinger led off the home half of the third with a walk and Ritchey, the very next batter, lined a two-run shot deep to left to tie the game at 4-4.
Although the Campers got out of the inning tied 4-4, Broadwater drew a 12-pitch walk following Ritchey’s homer. Cain got a flyout to himself sandwiched between a pair of strikeouts to end the inning at 94 pitches — 105 is the maximum pitch count.
“That two-run homer by Ritchey was huge,” Carr said. “And Landon Broadwater had some really good at-bats today. ... That was huge because that ate up his pitches. You’re trying to get (Cain) to that pitch count and that was huge.”
Broadwater, who gave the Huskies their first lead, started the rally that gave them the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth, ripping a one-out double to the wall in left. Levi Kennell followed up with an RBI single through the left side to put the score at 5-4.
Northern doubled its lead after Jamison Warnick singled to put runners at the corners and Logan Miller drove in Kennell from third on an infield single to make it 6-4.
After Allegany reliever Wes Athey — who replaced Cain in the fourth with no outs following a leadoff walk — got a strikeout, Wallace kept the Campers in the game with a web gem in deep centerfield. After getting turned around on a liner by Brenneman, Wallace sprawled to his right and caught the ball just off the grass for the last out of the inning, saving at least two more Northern runs.
But the Allegany bats had cooled — the Campers had just two of their 10 hits after the third inning and their only other baserunners during that stretch were a two-out sixth-inning walk by Athey and a hit-by-pitch to Madden in the seventh. After Broadwater plated a run on a fielder’s choice in the sixth, Madden scored the final run of the contest on a two-out single by Alex Kennell.
Northern was errorless in the field, further helping its pitching staff.
“This was the first game (Broadwater) has not (started on) defense all year,” said Carr. “I made a million-dollar coaching move. We were trying to better our defense a little bit. With Easton Rhoten coming off the JV team and not trying to save him for JV games anymore, when Jake pitches, we felt like he’s a pretty good centerfielder. We could get Ritchey back over to first, Mason is one of our better infielders and we could play him at third and leave Jamison at second. I think that’s a pretty solid defensive team we put out there today.”
Rush was tabbed with a no-decision over 4 1/3 innings, yielding nine hits — six in the first two innings — and one walk on 106 pitches. Hallenbeck got the win with three strikeouts over 2 2/3 with one hit, a walk and a hit-by-pitch.
With rain in the forecast during the game, following rain throughout the day Friday, it was questionable if the contest would even be played. But the rain stopped long enough until right after Alex Kennell made it 7-5 with two outs in the seventh.
With much of the state postponing their region final games until today, Northern can kick its feet up and relax before seeing who — and where — it will play. The Huskies are the fifth-ranked team in the state based on regular-season win percentage, but getting the game in Friday was huge for their pitching staff.
“Because of playing today, if we can win Monday, Jake can get back Wednesday,” said Carr. Brenneman, who started Wednesday’s playoff game, and Hallenbeck are both available to pitch Monday — Hallenbeck could’ve thrown 60 pitches on Friday after relieving Brenneman against Mountain Ridge, and got through it Friday with 40.
“If we would have played tomorrow and Jake hits his pitch limit for four days, he can’t pitch Wednesday. So we’d be up the creek without a paddle.”