MPSSAA baseball finals feature surprising Lansdowne, 2 unbeatens

Vikings face North Caroline in 2A title game Saturday at 4 p.m.

Westminster (22-0) trying to finish off perfect season in 4A contest Friday at 7:30 p.m.

May 26, 2011|By Sandra McKee, The Baltimore Sun

Matt Kohel took over as Lansdowne baseball coach five years ago, inheriting a program that was literally threadbare.

"When I got here we had nine baseballs and not enough uniforms to field a team," Kohel said. "The year before I came, the team went 2-14. There had been a lot of neglect, but when this senior class came in four years ago, I thought by their senior year they could possibly make a run."

Kohel's vision has become reality. On Saturday, Kohel will send his rebuilt squad into the 2A championship game, marking the Vikings' first finals appearance in 13 years.

Lansdowne is one of four area teams competing in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association championship playoffs Friday and Saturday at Ripken Stadium. Westminster (22-0) faces Severna Park (20-5) in the 4A championship game Friday at 7:30 p.m. Patterson Mill (20-4) plays St. Michaels (20-2) in the 1A title game at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed by Lansdowne (14-5) against North Caroline (16-6) at 4 p.m., and J.M. Bennett (21-0) against La Plata (20-3) in the 3A game at 7 p.m.

The playoffs began with a record six unbeatens, but only Westminster and J.M. Bennett have survived. There have been just 10 undefeated champions in the 35 years that MPSSAA records have been kept.

The Owls are trying not only to emerge with a perfect record, but also to send coach Brian Harman into retirement with a state championship. To do it, they will have to get the best of Severna Park, a team Falcons coach Jim McCandless calls "the best-hitting team I've ever coached" — which is saying a lot because his 2009 champion team was also known for its strong hitting.

Severna Park, with a team batting average of .390, is led by seniors Trevor Freeman (.506), Brent Jones (.494) and Connor Wells (.388). Jones, who will play at Maryland next year, broke six school records, and his No. 20 was retired this week.

"They'll be a formidable opponent," Harman said of the Falcons, who have three state titles compared with the Owls' one. "We're going to have to play tomorrow night. They're the one with a baseball history. We've done all right, but nothing like them. But we've done a good job maintaining a pretty good approach. We're not getting too keyed up."

Westminster will start either senior Brandon Taylor (8-0, 0.60 ERA) or junior Chad Diehl (6-0, 3.45) on the mound, but Harman said he believes it will come down to hitting.

"Runs will be scored. The team that plays the best defense is probably going to win," Harman said.

At Patterson Mill, senior Mike Delinski, who leads his team and conference in stolen bases and runs scored, will be the leadoff hitter, as usual, against St. Michaels. Huskies coach Matt Roseland said Delinski gets his team started and then acts as the fourth coach at his second base position.

"He put us in good position to get things done," Roseland said of the team captain. "For us to be in this position in just three years of varsity play is a terrific accomplishment, and it's a wonderful feeling for our seniors who started with us as a junior varsity program as freshmen and built what we have together."

Roseland will send junior pitcher Matt Golczewski (6-3, 2.92 ERA) to the mound in the first inning and have senior Joe Roman (8-0, 2.95) ready to help if needed. The Huskies' bats are led by Aaron Childs (.402).

For Lansdowne, Saturday will be an especially big day. The school has just one state title of any kind — the baseball crown it won in 1993. In addition to the baseball team, the school's softball team will have a chance to add to the total.

"We're definitely excited around here," Lansdowne athletic director Todd Hawkins said. "The last time Lansdowne won a state title, I was graduating from Kenwood High School. Now we have a chance to go for two more. Matt has done a good job turning that baseball program around."

Lansdowne's Kohel said he thought he had the makings of something special four years ago. When seven of those freshmen became starters as sophomores, he planted the idea in their heads that if they worked hard, a championship run would not be out of reach.

Led by senior center fielder Shane Montgomery (.509) and sophomore pitcher Sam Warfield (9-1, 3.08 ERA), they've made the run and along the way have shown Kohel their determination. In the 2A-North regional final, Lansdowne had a 7-5 lead with Digital Harbor's three biggest hitters due up in the seventh inning. The Vikings had two outs when senior third baseman Alex Kurth came to the plate and homered. Senior first baseman Mike Morris was up next, and he slammed one out of the park. And then Warfield, the sophomore pitcher, "as cool as he could be," said his coach, followed their example and also homered.

"We'd never even had back-to-back home runs, let alone back-to-back-to-back," Kohel said. "I'm still not sure what to think. But we're riding a lot of confidence right now. We've moved into a different level of competition, and the boys are loving it."

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