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May 13, 2006

For baseball, no clutch hitting, no win

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor

It was somewhat ironic that halfway through Jesse Mueller's at-bat, the loudspeakers from the adjacent lacrosse field began to blare Nelly's "Heart of a Champion." Ironic because, during the course of the five minute long song, Mueller flew out to end the first inning with the bases loaded, Richard Montgomery's Mason Dunham ran into his own bunt, and Mueller missed a tough grounder at third base.

Neither team showed the heart that it will take to be crowned Maryland Division 4 State Champions. But apparently Blair lacked it just a little bit more. They stranded an astonishing 12 base runners, including five in scoring position, and were stunned at home by the Richard Montgomery Rockets, 2-1 to end their season in heartbreaking fashion.

The Blazers' defeat was the first at home in seven games, and the win was RM's first on the road since they beat Rockville on March 30th. The Rockets (5-14) had lost nine in a row before beating Kennedy on Monday night, their last two losses being 10-0 shutouts. Still, they got just one more clutch hit than the Blazers did.

The Rockets only had four hits tonight, but they were able to play small ball to win. With the game tied 1-1 in the top of the sixth inning with no outs, Blair reliever Avi Wolfman-Arent walked RM's Daniel Froehlich. After Wolfman-Arent was replaced by MacDonald in favor of Gabe Sartor, Froehlich stole second and third base easily.

After Sartor struck out Aric Linkins, Nicholas Khan stepped to the plate. Khan hit Sartor's 1-2 fastball past a drawn in middle infield for the game winning single.

Blair was not able to respond to Linkins, who threw a complete game winner on the mound for the Rockets. Blair's Sam Morris led the game off with a walk, and came around to score off an Adam Kopp single. That was the only run the Blazers (9-12) got all night.

Manager John MacDonald said the game was emblematic of the problems that plagued the team all season. "We've been a bad team this year hitting with runners in scoring position. We just can't seem to get a clutch hit. It's happened so much; I just don't know why."

Bench coach David Douglass concurred. "When you leave a lot of guys on as we did tonight," he said, "you're not going to win. Plain and simple."

In addition to leaving the bases loaded in the first, Blair left two runners on in the second, one on in the third, and one in the fifth. It was the Blazers' final two offensive innings that likely left the most bitter taste in the mouths of the players.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Lee Shields singled and stole second base with one out. But then Sartor and Morris both struck out to end that threat.

In the seventh and final inning of the season, Blair's Zach Hall led off with a bloop single that barely got over the head of third baseman Jeremy Oziel. Tommy Dugan then hit a sharp line drive to put two runners on with no outs. But then Wolfman-Arent lined out, Kopp grounded out, and after a hard fought at-bat, Alec Burns popped out to Holmes at shortstop to end the game and the 2006 season.

MacDonald was upset about how Blair couldn't convert a golden opportunity in the final inning. "We've got two on, nobody out at we screw it up. It's horrible."

The game was Blair's fifth one-run game in a row, a span which they went 2-3 in. Douglass said that "the benefit of these close games shows how one play can turn a game."

Perhaps that one play was Blair's biggest mistake. RM's first run was scored when Addy Holmes reached on a single in the third inning, then scored when Morris bobbled a grounder at shortstop, then threw wide of first base. Holmes went from first all the way home to score over the course of the play.

But there were so many other close calls for both teams. The Rockets had a runner on third in borth the fourth and fifth innings but didn't score either time. In the fourth, Robert Riker snared Oziel's hard ground ball at second base and threw to first to end the frame unharmed. In the fifth, starter Zach Hall got two pop-outs and a groundout after allowing runners to reach first and second base with nobody out.

MacDonald said that Hall, Kopp and Burns are the core of the small number of returning starters. "They carried us well," he said. But Wolfman-Arent, Shields, Dugan, Morris and Mueller are all graduating seniors.

Even though Blair did have a lot of turnover following last season's departures of Cody Simpson and Mike Sindall among others, MacDonald didn't take any comfort in the fact that the Blazers almost finished with a .500 record. "This team should have been way over that number," he said. "We just never got all three components; hitting, pitching and fielding together."

"One day," he noted, "we would hit and pitch, but not field. Other days, like today, we fielded and pitched well but couldn't hit. It's really maddening."

Douglass agreed that the inconsistency and inability to put all three parts together held them back greatly. "For us to be a great team, or even a good one, we had to have all three parts working together. And because they didn't we could only hope to do the best with what was left."

Which was tantalizingly close to being enough to win. But MacDonald said that the loss was part of a season that he viewed through anything but rose colored glasses. "I don't know how you can spin this season in a positive way," he said.

"To lose as many close games as we did," MacDonald continued. "is unbelievable. I take no moral victories from this season. Every close loss, especially tonight," he said, his voice trailing off.

MacDonald paused, and then summed up his view of a season full of close losses, including the one that ended it.

"This was a recurring nightmare."

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  • Zachary Hall on May 13, 2006 at 8:51 PM
    "Addy Holmes reached on a double in the third inning, then scored when Blair starting pitcher Zach Hall made an errant pick-off attempt towards the Rocket at first base."

    I don't believe this part is correct. I think the play happened, but I was not pitching and there was a man only on first, not second. The overthrow caused the runner to take third. The other play that resembles that was when a ground ball was thrown over the first baseman's head to allow the runner from second to score, but the statement quoted above, is simply false. The runs scored on an overthrow from a ground ball, and the grounder through the middle with the infield in.
  • fan on May 13, 2006 at 9:20 PM
    why didn't dugan pitch?
  • jv on May 14, 2006 at 11:19 AM
    dugan did not pitch because he pitched a complete game on monday and some on wednesday.
  • ahahhahah on May 14, 2006 at 11:55 AM
    mcdonald is so funny, his quotes make me laugh so hard
  • whatever on May 14, 2006 at 9:30 PM
    zach and andrew are amazing so they'll win next year
  • To whatever (View Email) on May 15, 2006 at 12:32 AM
    Who's Andrew?
  • John Macdonald on May 15, 2006 at 12:30 PM
    Bushnell has done well covering baseball this year (although he's never come to an away game or included a season stat), but I've never said the word "madenning" in my life. So occasionally I am misquoted somewhat and that could be why "ahahhahah" made his comment about my quotes. I am not trying to be funny - especially after a hertbreaking loss. So weather that comment was sarcastic or not, it should be attributed to Bushnell. Furthermore,(to Fan)it should be noted that our problem in the playoff game was not our pitching. All four kids did well and the question he should have asked was "where were the bats when we needed them."
    The reader should also be aware that my frustration over the playoff loss and our inability to hit in the clutch is not a critisism towards my team. I love the kids who play for me and my lament is that I feel badly for them. They played a great many close games this year and won as many as they lost, but we really played poorly when it came to statistics like hitting with runners in scoring position or striking out with a runner on third and less than two out and those stats will kill you. It was a recurring shortcoming and perhaps I should have coached them better, but it wasn't because they were not trying. I just feel terrible that we were not able to play well when we needed to late in games. In a lot of those games, we needed someone to step up and get a big hit at a big time and it never seemed to happen for us. That's the difference in being a 9-12 team and 12-9 or 13-8 team. We'll see if we can learn from it next year.
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on May 15, 2006 at 3:13 PM
    Mac, I've got the word maddening here in my notes. I must've misheard you then.

    It's hard for me to come to road games, but if you had won friday I would have been at Wootton for the game today.
  • anon on May 19, 2006 at 8:40 AM
    I believe that fan was just inquiring about the reasoning behind dugan not starting. I mean, he's your best pitcher and it is the playoffs, you have to win. I'm not saying that he needs to pitch 7 innings again, but he could at least pitch 4 or 5. Also I have never found macdonald funny, always maddening. thanks for your time and listening to me.
  • booty on May 19, 2006 at 8:49 AM
    Tommy is a good person. Why didnt u let him win the game for u? Ur my HERO TOMMY!!!
  • to anon and booty (View Email) on May 19, 2006 at 4:52 PM
    Read the article. There was 1 earned run allowed and that was in the 6th inning. Blair had good enough pitching to win, the hitting just wasn't there when they needed it.
  • fan on May 19, 2006 at 8:36 PM
    i don't care what the outcome was, i just wanted to see tommy pitch one more time, is that too much too ask? also i heard that lee didn't start, why is that? just wondering. if they needed bats then they should have gone to the store and bought some. a baseball team should never have a shortage of bats.
  • (View Email) on May 25, 2006 at 12:37 PM
    "if they needed bats then they should have gone to the store and bought some. a baseball team should never have a shortage of bats." - fan

    This is a joke right? There was no shortage of bats.
  • John Macdonald on May 30, 2006 at 10:01 AM
    To anon and booty - since you seem to be addressing your questions to me. Tommy was our toughest pitcher all year, but he pitched a lot late in the season. Had we beaten RM, Tommy gave us our best chance in the next round against Wootton. For Tommy to have "won the game for us," he would have had to throw a shutout, which he had done only once this year. He and others had plenty of chances to win it for us offensively, but it didn't happen. RM's pitcher was nothing special, we left a lot of guys on base and didn't hit in the clutch which was our MO all season. Our pitching was plenty good enough to win and it would have been difficult for Tommy to pitch better than that which we got. It's easy to second guess, but the truth is that the pitching held up - it was the hitting that didn't.
    And to Fan - no, it's not too much to ask. If we had won, you could have seen Tommy pitch against Wootton.
  • stormin mormon (View Email) on December 18, 2006 at 5:06 PM
    Im a little late becuase I have been doing other things but nobody should ever ever second guess Mr. MacDonald. He knows the game more then anybody on here. Dont second guess Blair or Coach.
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