Put Arundel pitcher Zach Collins in the middle of a tight ballgame, says Coach Bernie Walter, and he's practically unhittable.
Give the Wildcats a comfortable lead, though, and the junior often loses hisconcentration and lands in trouble.
Collins was laboring somewhat in the final innings of Saturday night's Class 4A state final in Frederick. Things must have been going Arundel's way.
They were, of course -- right from the very first pitch.
The second-seeded Wildcats scored two runs in the opening inning and never looked back in unseating No. 1 Perry Hall as 4A state champions, 8-1, at McCurdy Field.
It was downright simple. And fora variety of reasons, though one in particular.
Perry Hall speedster Roy Marsh, ticketed for Ohio State University on a baseball scholarship, was kept off the base paths and never allowed to become the disruptive force his team so desperately needed.
Batting leadoff, the muscular center fielder struck out twice before walking in the sixth.
No problem. The next hitter, senior Kevin Loewe, delivered a line drive off Marsh's leg, resulting in an unorthodox out.
By then, the Wildcats had a 7-1 lead. An inning later, they had an
other state title -- the school's fifth and the first since 1987.
"Theirfirst two guys are fast, but I thought we did a real good job with them. I tried to work the curve and fastball and keep them off track,"Collins said.
"Like Coach Walter said, when we come to play, nobody can beat us," said designated hitter Larry Dobson, who went 2-for-4 with three RBI, including a two-run single in the first inning.
Teammates Scott Young, A. J. Trout and Dusty Oldfather also had two hits each. Shawn Crews tripled, and Eric Hontz singled in a run.
Walter stopped short of calling this team his best ever, instead labeling them his "most complete."
"When they played their ballgame, we didn't have a single hole. This team had outstanding pitching, excellent defense, balance and hitting through the lineup. They became the best base-running team we ever had. They're a complete ballclub," he said.
Collins became the complete pitcher this year, going 8-1 while permitting less than two runs a game. And Saturday's crowd was treated to Collins at his best through four innings, when he retired 12 of the first 13 batters, including six strikeouts.
The lone base runner during that stretch reached on a bunt single in the first inning. The crafty southpaw ended with a four-hitter, walking one and fanning 11.
"It was a real good night for me. I mean, everything just worked out for me great. I couldn't ask for any better," he said.
"Zach executed the scouting report very, very well," Walter said. "He's learned how to pitch in big ballgames. He's learned how to throw harder; he's got himself in a much better groove."
Collins also gothimself in a few mild jams in the latter stages, with the leadoff walk to Marsh in the sixth and a two-out single and hit batsman in the seventh. But he closed both innings with strikeouts.
"He's so strong physically. And recently, he's been outstanding," Walter said.
So had Perry Hall's Loewe, who entered the game 18-0 over the last two seasons, including 8-0 this spring. He had thrown four shutouts andone no-hitter during the Gators' 16-2 campaign.
He looked quite ordinary against Arundel (20-4), however, giving up 10 hits and five earned runs.
"He didn't throw hard," Dobson said. "I don't mean to put him down, but the pitchers that I usually see who are 8-0 or 9-0 really throw hard and have good stuff. But everybody just sat on the fast ball."
Loewe said, "This loss is tough, but we got here."
Arundel wasn't exactly a unanimous choice to do so back in March, when league rival Old Mill widely was viewed as the favorite to return to Frederick. A pre-season USA Today poll even judged the Patriots the19th-best team nationally.
But Arundel went 3-0 in head-to-head meetings with Old Mill, the last one a 7-0 win in the region finals.