Dogged Centennial drives home 1st title

Loveless' pitching, power get Eagles past Blake, 6-4

Class 2A baseball

High Schools

May 30, 2001|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

A month ago, it would have seemed improbable. But last night, when Centennial won its first baseball state championship in school history, the moment was simply indescribable.

"I'm just on cloud nine right now," said Eagles junior Brad Loveless, who hit a three-run home run in the first inning and pitched five strong innings to help Centennial upset Blake of Montgomery County, 6-4, at Joe Cannon Stadium for the Class 2A title. "I can't even put into words how important this is to our team, to our school. We just feel like no one can beat us right now."

That wasn't the case through much of the season. Centennial (16-9) finished third in Howard County after it struggled through the first half of the season, but a nine-game winning streak erased some early-season doubts.

On the other hand, Blake (18-2) entered the game a winner of 17 straight and boasted a pitching staff that was giving up less than two runs a game, led by pitcher Kevin Cunningham, who had a 7-0 record and a 0.56 ERA.

But Loveless changed all that with one swing, hitting a fastball some 350 feet off Cunningham in the first inning after consecutive walks to A.J. Tinnerella and Brian Neidig. Suddenly, the Eagles were in control.

"We felt like they'd jumped on a lot of teams early, so we figured if we could make them play from behind a little bit, they might struggle," Loveless said.

In truth, both teams struggled with some lapses, but Centennial was able to wiggle out of trouble more often than Blake. Four times Blake had runners on base with no outs, and the Bengals only got three runs out of it, including having the bases loaded with no outs in both the sixth and seventh innings.

"We dodged bullets the entire game," said Eagles coach Dave Appleby, who coached Oakland Mills' basketball team to the state final in March, where it lost to Snow Hill. "But if you don't get by hit by those bullets, it doesn't matter."

Neidig was responsible for much of the trouble, after coming on to relieve Loveless in the sixth. But for every jam he got in, he seemed to get an even bigger out. With the bases loaded in the sixth, Neidig got Erik Nelson to ground into a double play, and eventually got out of the inning. In the seventh, after the Bengals got three consecutive hits to get to 6-4, Neidig settled down and again got Nelson to pop out to end the game.

"Win or lose, I knew I was going with Brian," Appleby said. "He's our money pitcher. Brad [Loveless] pitched a great game for us, but I knew Brian could finish them off when we needed it the most.

"This is a big moment for our school, and for Howard County," Appleby said. "Our league is very tough, but it doesn't always get a lot of credit. It's a credit for everyone involved. Our team just did everything they had to do to win."

Blake 001 101 1 -- 4 7 4

Centennial 300 012 x -- 6 6 1

Loveless, Neidig (6) and Towsend; Cunningham, J. Schmidt (7) and M. Schmidt and Cunningham. HR--Loveless.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.