A few hours after their loss in the state championship baseball game, most of Joppatowne's players partied the night away at their senior prom.
Whether they realized it then or not, said Coach Al Zelinski, they had plenty to celebrate. "It was a great season. They have nothing to be ashamed of. There are no losers in a game like that -- only winners. I'm very proud of them."
Even though the Mariners lost, 5-1, to Brunswick in the state Class 1A title game at McCurdy Field in Frederick on May 23, they accomplished something no Joppatowne baseball team had since 1980: They won the Harford County championship. They also made the school's first appearance in the state title game since 1977.
Some of the players felt pretty good about the season, despite their disappointment.
"We knew we were going to have a good season, but we didn't know how far we could go," said senior Bill Pilkerton. "We worked as a team and we came through as a group. I feel really good about this season."
Pilkerton, one of eight seniors, turned in a stellar relief performance on the mound. He struck out five and allowed one hit in 3 2/3 innings. He didn't allow a base runner in the final three innings.
"Who knows," said Brunswick coach Jeff Warfle, "if he had started, it might have been a tighter game or we might still be out there with zeros on the board."
Pilkerton also hit a leadoff double in the fifth inning, the Mariners' only extra-base hit. But like so many other Mariner base runners, Pilkerton never got past second.
Most of the season, the Mariners had relied on timely hitting to pull out close games, but not against Brunswick. Joppatowne (18-4) stranded 10 runners and left the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning.
"There are a lot of 'could have beens' and 'should have beens,' " said Mariner outfielder Don Thomas after the game. "When it comes down to it, I don't think they were a better team than us. They just played better today."
Brunswick ace Scott Frye allowed only five Mariner hits as he pitched a complete game and struck out nine to lead the Railroaders (17-5) to their third straight Class 1A title, the first team ever to accomplish that feat.
Joppatowne is one of seven teams that has won back-to-back state titles in the 18-year history of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Baseball Tournament. The Mariners won in 1976 and 1977.
Last weekend, however, Joppatowne's troubles started with the first Brunswick batter. Mariner starter Sean Ward gave up a leadoff single to Mark Myers. Ward sent Myers to second on a balk and third on a wild pitch. No. 2 hitter Matt Morton scored Myers with a sacrifice fly to center field.
Joppatowne, ranked No. 13 in The Baltimore Sun's Top 15 baseball poll, tied the game in the second inning when Greg Smith's ingle scored Cable Miller.
Two Joppatowne errors helped the Railroaders break the tie in the third inning. With a runner on first, Mariners' catcher Smith fell down trying to field a pop up on the dirt in front of home plate and came up with two errors. The official scorer gave Smith one error for missing the pop up and a second for a throw in the dirt to second base.
The runners stayed at first and second, but Frye followed with a double off the left-field fence to score both. Joppatowne could have been in a lot more trouble, but Ward struck out two, including Matt Domer, who had homered three times in the regional playoffs, to end the inning.
The Railroaders added two more runs in the fourth on only one hit. Four walks -- three by Wark and another by Pilkerton -- helped Brunswick take a 5-1 lead.
"Sean just couldn't find the strike zone," said Pilkerton. "He had some jitters. When I went out there, I was just a little nervous. Luckily, I got it together. A few strikeouts helped me out."