GIlman's Lucas Simmons is greeted by enthusiastic teammates… (Photo by Steve Ruark for…)
From the first day of practice in February, sophomore Ryan Ripken said that players on the once-downtrodden Gilman baseball team could feel a change in the air.
On Sunday, at the Aberdeen stadium named for his famous baseball family, Ripken helped usher in a change on the field as well.
Ripken drove in four runs as No. 4 Gilman -- 3-16 a year ago -- finished off a monumental turnaround, rallying from an early five-run deficit to knock off five-time defending champion Calvert Hall, 10-8, and earn its first Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title since 1996.
"Everyone knew something was changing at Gilman," Ripken said. "We knew we could be here in this position. Everyone bought in, and that's why we're champs today."
Ripken's game at the plate didn't hurt, either. The first baseman drove in two runs each on a single and double, helping his team to emerge from a one-hour, 27-minute rain delay and score 10 runs over the next four innings.
With the score tied at 6, Gilman (27-5) took the lead for good on leadoff hitter Scott Johnson's two-run single to left off reliever Garrett Walther in the sixth. Two batters later, with the bases loaded, Ripken delivered with a double down the left-field line.
"To be down 5-0, some teams would fold it in, but our guys have battled all year," said first-year Greyhounds coach Larry Sheets, the former Oriole whose squad recorded the most wins of any team in the history of Gilman athletics. "I think what people forget is that the foundation was here. We just got the guys believing in themselves."
Early, it seemed as if No. 7 Calvert Hall (23-11) would force a winner-take-all game today to decide the double-elimination tournament.
The Cardinals took a 4-0 lead before making their first out of the game, with each of the first five batters reaching base off Greyhounds sophomore starter Matt Collins. Alex Murphy and Matt Bosse each contributed RBI singles, and each later scored when shortstop Kevin Baron delivered a line-drive double over the head of center fielder Scott Johnson.
Bosse then extended the lead to 5-0 with an RBI single to left in the second.
For Calvert Hall coach Lou Eckerl, whose team fell to 6-1 all time at Ripken Stadium, it was an emotional end to his team's five-year run as champion.
"Every year, everybody says that we're down and we're not going to make it and we're here," Eckerl said. "I'm extremely proud of our guys. We battled and we played tough."
CH 410 001 2 — 8 9 1
G 004 114 x — 10 7 2
Sgroi, Tuzo (5), Walther (6) and Welling; Collins, Willis (6) and Lauf. 2B: CH—Baron; G—O'Neill, Ripken. 3B: CH—Pastorius.