"Some days you have it and some days you don't," said Centennial's hard-throwing senior pitcher Denny Chapman after his team lost to Liberty, 9-3, in the state Class 3A finals at Joe Cannon Stadium yesterday.
"This was not one of my better performances and I can't explain why. It wasn't that I didn't have enough rest. You have to give credit to Liberty. They didn't hit many hard balls. Maybe two or three. But it was enough."
Chapman, now 10-3, entered yesterday's game riding one of the all-time best state playoff performances by a pitcher. In three outings he had fanned 41 batters in 21 innings and allowed five hits and one run. He had thrown a no-hitter and a one-hitter.
Obviously, he offered strong hope for the Eagles to snap their 0-for-4 state playoff history. But against No. 3 Liberty (21-3) Chapman did not maintain a consistent velocity at 88 mph, and his fastball lacked some of the tremendous movement it had in recent performances. He struck out only five batters in five innings -- low for him.
Also, Chapman struggled with his control, as he has several times this season, especially in the first inning when he gave up four runs on three hits.
He walked the lead-off batter, struck out the next batter, then threw a wild pitch that put a runner in scoring position. Jon Felmey's ground ball just eluded the grasp of second baseman Chris Tiedemann for an RBI single.
With two outs, Chapman walked another batter, and then surrendered a three-run home run to Jon Hill.
"He threw me two fastballs outside, and then I moved up on the plate," Hill said. "He threw me a fastball inside and I managed to turn on it."
Liberty started eight seniors and Centennial just two. The Eagles started three sophomores and a freshman, but coach Ron Martin didn't use his team's youth as an excuse.
"We just had an off-day," he said. "Liberty has been scoring a lot, and they came up with big hits with men in scoring position. They made the most of their opportunities. We started pressing after going down 4-0. Age doesn't matter when you go down like that in the state finals. Their getting that home run gave them a heck of a shot. We would have liked a close game, but they just stepped up and took control."
The game brought back memories of Centennial's last state playoff appearance when the Eagles also had a dominant starting pitcher but fell behind 5-0 in the first inning of the semifinals against Thomas Stone. They rallied but lost that game, 5-4.
Yesterday the Eagles also tried to rally. They banged out three hits in the fourth inning, but came away with just one run because of a base-running blunder.
Mike Martin led off with a single and was bunted to second base by Centennial's top batter Matt Deuchler, a .430 hitter who has 12 extra-base hits. Chapman doubled Martin home.
On Jamie McDonald's ground ball to the shortstop, however, Chapman's pinch runner was thrown out trying to advance to third base -- a fundamental base-running mistake that cost Centennial dearly when Pat Connors followed with a single. Freshman Ryan Barwick then grounded out to end the inning and it was 4-1, instead of 4-2.
"We made a couple of base-running errors and things happened in the field where we mentally shut down, and that got me frustrated and made it harder to pitch," Chapman said. "But we had a great season, and this is a great team and there's no doubt in my mind they'll see this field again because we have so many young kids."
Liberty put No. 6-ranked Centennial (19-6) away in the bottom of the fourth inning. With one out, Chapman issued one of his six walks. Then Justin Barnowski's fly ball to center was dropped, and a run scored on a bad relay throw. Brock Schaffer hit an RBI single. Another single, another walk and a triple by Hill put Liberty ahead, 9-1.
"The triple was really just a fly ball," said Hill, who savored Liberty's first state team title in any sport.
"A lot of people have said it was destiny we won this," Hill said.
Centennial chased Liberty starter Frank Campanella in the sixth inning, when he walked four batters and gave up a run, but the Eagles failed to produce a big hit.
A potential big inning also fizzled into just one run in the seventh inning despite two singles and two walks.
Pub Date: 5/25/97