If Don Shump hadn't ducked his head, that last pitch might have taken it off.
Shump was facing Frederick Douglass right hander Greg Merlo, the only guy standing between him and the county RBI record.
With one out, runners on second and third and facing a 3-1 count in the second inning, the 210-pound Northeast third baseman was just one away from breaking the county's single-season RBI record of 39.
Then came the heat, right down the middle. And Shump got every ounce of his body behind a three-run shot that raised his RBI total to 41.
"I was hoping he'd throw me another fastball and make another mistake, and he did. He grooved it right down the middle," said Shump, whose shot gave the Eagles a 7-1 lead on the way to a 16-1 victory and their second straight Class 2A Region III championship.
His effort surpassed those of Old Mill's Jim McNally and Clark Wagner, who had 39 RBI in 1989 and 1990, respectively. Shump also holds the state record for career RBI with 77.
The Eagles (22-0) are trying to become the first state team to win 24 consecutive games. To do that, theymust win their last two games of the season, which would also give 24-year coach Harry Lentz his first state title since 1975.
The semifinals begin today at 4 p.m. at Frederick's McCurdy Field. The Eagles will take on Region I winner Middletowne (16-4), a 7-3 winner over two-time defending state champion Allegany.
"Here we are again at 22-0," said Lentz, whose squad entered last year's state semifinals with the same record before losing, 6-5, to eventual runner-up Edgewood. "We had a much tougher schedule this year, but we're scoring a lotof runs and won the regions bigger than we won it last year. But it was one of those bad innings we had up there (that led to last year'sloss), and we hope we don't have another one like that."
Yesterday, the Eagles had two big innings -- a nine-run second and a six-run fourth, rocking four different pitchers for 20 hits and turning a 1-1first-inning tie into a rout. Ace pitcher Charlie Buckheit (10-0) struck out nine batters and allowed just five hits and no walks, improving his career record for wins to 29, two more than the previous county record.
Shump struck out five batters and allowed just two hitsand a walk in four innings of relief against Frederick Douglass (15-3).
Junior designated hitter Chad O'Brien led the hit parade, going 5-for-5 with three RBI, three runs scored and a stolen base. Juniorcatcher Rich Speigel (3-for-4, one RBI) had a pair of triples and raised his season RBI total to 33.
Others hitting well were K. C. Murphy, Craig Everett (each 2-for-5) and Jamie Barnett (2-for-4). Everett crossed the plate twice, Murphy and Barnett once.
The Eagles' Russ Curry (2-for-5) entered the game ranked second on the RBI list with 36, and could have made it 40 if he could have nailed a grand slamwith one out in the fifth. But the senior first baseman grounded out, knocking in one run.
"Yeah, I wanted it," admitted Curry. "Donnyand I want to combine for 80 RBI before the season is over."
Shump actually had a chance to add seven more RBI to his already impressive effort but walked with two on in the fourth and flied out to rightfield with the bases loaded in the fifth. But the hit ended two years of trying for the senior, who was on the verge of breaking the record a year ago before "going into a slump in the last few weeks," he said, and ending the season with 36 RBI.
"I was so close to breaking it last year, that was my goal this year," said Shump. "I didn't think I was going to do it until I had that Severna Park game (a 15-1 victory in which he had eight RBI). That's when I started looking at it, and I'm glad I finally did it."