Cardinal Gibbons senior Nick Hoffman shut down St. Mary's in relief, then hit a game-winning, two-run triple to secure a 5-3 victory in yesterday's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference title game at Joe Cannon Stadium in Harmans.
One of only two senior starters on a 13-player roster that includes nine sophomores, Hoffman was clutch on the mound as Gibbons (18-10) made St. Mary's (17-4) a runner-up for the second straight year.
With two on, two out, and the game tied at 3 in the bottom of the sixth innning, first-year coach Lou Holcomb replaced Justin King with Hoffman. Hoffman walked the first batter to load the bases before getting the last out on a fly to right fielder Corey Whittington.
In the bottom of the seventh, Hoffman walked the first batter before retiring the last three.
"It was a pressure situation. But if he had to call on someone, I'm glad it was me," said Hoffman, who broke a 3-3 tie with his two-out triple in the top of the seventh inning.
Hoffman's only previous playoff appearance was in seventh grade, when the Crusaders lost in the first round. "It's been a long wait, but this feels incredible," he said.
Gibbons won its first title since the Crusaders of coach Rod Cameron -- now an assistant at Mount St. Joseph -- beat Calvert Hall, 4-0, for the Maryland Scholastic Association version in 1985.
Holcomb said he "challenged" the Crusaders (4-13 last season) with a tough early season schedule that included wins over Calvert Hall, Curley and public school 4A East region finalist Glen Burnie.
Sean Callahan went 1-for-3, including an RBI single that gave Gibbons a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Down 2-1 with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the sixth inning, sophomore Matt Foster's two-run single put the Crusaders up, 3-2.
Foster, like Hoffman, had gone 0-for-2 in his previous at-bats. Gibbons' Craig King tripled and scored once, Mike Cromer walked twice and scored twice, and Mark Meyer had a hit and scored once.
St. Mary's starter Tony Magnolia faced Gibbons for the second time since Monday's 12-4 loss, but allowed only five hits -- down from 14 on Monday.
St. Mary's played error-less ball and had seven hits, including Mark Kastantin's double, and triples by Kevin Corradini and Jeff Griffin, whose extra-base hit made it 3-all in the bottom of the sixth.
"My curve ball was getting over. We had more hits, made no errors," Magnolia said. "This might be the best we've played, so it's tough to lose."