The first time the Hammond baseball team met Northeast back on April2, it watched the Eagles overcome leads of 3-1 and 4-3, for a 15-4 victory.
The loss was the first for the Bears' ace hurler Joe Nestor.
So the senior left-hander hoped for different results in his rematch Saturday in the Class 2A state championship game at McCurdy Field.
But the Bears went the way of each of the Eagles' previous 23 victims as Northeast rebounded from a 2-0 deficit for a 15-3 shellacking of the Howard County champions.
With the victory, Northeast became the first state team to have a 24-0 season. The win caps the 24th season of Coach Harry Lentz, who won his first state title in 1975.
The win also silences the critics of last year's team, which did not play perennial powerhouses Old Mill and Arundel in compiling a 22-0regular season record. The Eagles lost, 6-5, to Edgewood in the Class 2A semifinal.
"I think we have all the monkeys off of our backs after the season we had this year," said Lentz, who also notched career victory 312. "You just can't ask for more out of these kids. Todaywe're down, 2-0, and it doesn't faze them. They just start hitting the ball. Man-for-man, this is as good as any team I've had."
The rally began when Russ Curry (2-for-4) led off with a triple to right-center and later scored when right fielder Jeff Busick tried to nip him at third with a throw that eluded Matt Cryan.
After a strikeout,Rich Speigel (35 RBI) walked and was replaced by pinch runner Jeff Hagen. Chad O'Brien (3-for-4, four RBI) doubled, and K. C. Murphy (1-for-3, two runs scored) blasted a full-count, two-run double to left-center, which gave the Eagles a lead they would never relinquish.
When center fielder Craig Everett crunched a second-inning, three-run homer over the left-field fence to put the Eagles up, 6-2, Hammond coach Bob Maxey knew a Northeast victory was at hand.
The Eagles, after all, have out-scored their opponents, 326-59, including 65-7 in playoff victories.
"Even when we went on top, 2-0, he's (Lentz) sitting over there knowing that he's going to score some runs," said Maxey.
"I thought going into the game, realistically, if we played solid defense, Joe pitched real well and they were a little off with their sticks, it would be close," said Maxey. "But that's a lot of ifs."
Despite the presence of Don Shump (six homers, county-record 45 RBI), Craig Everett (four homers, 30 RBI), first baseman Curry (38 RBI), catcher Rich Speigel (35 RBI, four homers) and right fielder Derek Dolch (28 RBI, three homers), it was junior O'Brien who had the best week at the plate.
O'Brien went 10-for-12 with nine RBI, with two triples and two doubles. He had a triple, a double and a single against Hammond.
Not bad for a kid once deemed a utility player and who struggled at the plate earlier in the year.
"At the beginning of the season, I never thought this would happen to me; I mean, I justcan't believe it," said O'Brien, who has seen action at third base, right field, second base, left field and designated hitter.
The Eagles rocked Nestor so hard -- for 10 hits -- that his normally sturdyoutfield was shaken into committing five errors.
"We figured we'dget ahead early -- and we normally do that -- and then we'd sit backand just play our defense," said Nestor, who hit a second-inning solo home run following a first-inning RBI single by Jeff Lavis.
Nestor entered the game with a 9-2 record and 100 strikeouts. He left after giving up 13 runs and seven hits in just over three innings. "We just couldn't keep them off the bases."
Northeast routinely gives up an early lead, only to shatter the confidence of the opposing team.
"All we ever heard was that we played a cupcake schedule and thatwe never played any tough teams," said ace hurler Charlie Buckheit.
In winning his 11th game of the season, Buckheit -- who entered the game with a 2.28 ERA, 74 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 66 innings-- struck out six batters, gave up five hits and raised his career record to a county-high 30-3.
"Last year we went out there, and they (Edgewood) rocked me, but this year, the team has come out and hit the ball every time I pitch," said Buckheit, whose squad averaged 14 runs when he was on the hill.
"We wanted to have a tougher schedule, and we thought we could play with the big boys in the 4A league," said Curry.
"Our goal was to have a .500 season and to just make the playoffs. I didn't think we'd go undefeated the way our schedule looked, but this is the best team Northeast ever had."