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April 9, 2008

Varsity baseball falls short despite late rally

by Greg Kohn, Online Sports Editor
BLAZER FIELD, April 8

Thanks to two powerful innings, the Damascus Hornets edged the hosting Blair Blazers (5-3) in an otherwise deadlocked match on Tuesday afternoon, 5-3. The Hornets scored two runs in the third inning and three in the sixth. Blair countered with a three runs in the bottom of the seventh, but the rally fell short.

Head coach John Macdonald was not displeased with the play, though. "There is nothing shameful about losing a close game to Damascus," MacDonald said. "They are a traditionally powerful team, so playing with them says something about us."

Pitching dominated the first two innings of play, with both teams mustering just one hit a piece. Senior pitcher Ruben Aguirre occupied the mound for Blair, combining wicked fastballs with off-speed finesse to throw off Damascus's timing. Aguirre finished with no earned runs.

At the top of the third, the Hornets began to catch up with Aguirre, though the connections stayed on the ground. However, after two consecutive infield errors, Damascus was able to load the bases with no outs. Aguirre's next pitch resulted in a grounder up the first-base line that turned into an RBI after the throw home landed in the dirt.

"Errors were our downfall," MacDonald said of his Blazers, who committed a season-high seven, far above their average of two. "We normally can handle those plays, and in the end it was clear just how much each one mattered."

The following Hornet lined to left field, sending two Damascus players home. The first was safe standing up, but a fantastic collaboration between senior catcher and co-captain Dylan Baird and junior first-baseman Josh Gordon at the plate prevented a third run. Aguirre expertly pitched the remainder of the inning, leaving two Hornets in scoring position and keeping the score at 2-0.

Through the third and fourth innings Blair continued to work Damascus's pitcher. The Blazers were able to get themselves deep into the count and connect well, but not for base hits. Sophomore infielder Sammy Denenberg sent a pitch reeling towards the right-center wall, only to find a Damascus glove, feet shy of a home run. Junior second-baseman and co-captain David Fegley similarly pounded the ball to no avail in a strong lineout to left-center field.

After halting the Hornets with tremendous defense, Blair began what appeared to be a comeback in the bottom of the fifth inning. With one out, Baird was sent to first after being hit by a pitch. Then freshman left fielder Peirce Marston, after narrowly avoiding a wild pitch himself, sent a floater just beyond the Damascus shortstop. After another wild pitch, both Baird and Marston advanced to scoring position, but the next two Blazers popped up to end the inning leaving both runners stranded.

Freshman pitcher Evan Epps relieved Aguirre in the sixth, ending Blair's season-long single pitcher stretch. Epps was called up from the junior varsity in order to help fill holes in the pitching rotation, which has been nearly depleted due to crammed in make-up games.

Fighting players years older than him, Epps forced one out but allowed two runners on base. Then, a base-clearing double to left field raised the deficit to 4-0. Epps showed determination however, neatly picking off the Hornet at second-base a few pitches later. A walk and a single resulted in another Damascus run, and a 5-0 Hornet advantage.

A new Damascus pitcher took the mound in the bottom of the sixth inning, and quickly retired three Blazers. Blair also switched pitchers again, this time to Denenberg, who gained some experience on varsity as a freshman last year. Denenberg similarly ended Damascus's half-inning speedily.

Blair's last chance at the rally Damascus started well. Baird made contact again, singling to left field. Marston matched with a single up the middle, and freshman shortstop Nevin Brown loaded the bases on a walk. Aguirre, a power-hitter as well as pitcher for the Blazers, then doubled over second base, bringing in two runs. Senior centerfielder Carlos Mesa grounded out to first, but brought in another run, cutting Damascus's lead to 5-3. However, the rally would end there, and the Blazers suffered their third loss of the season by that margin.

Despite the final result, the final tally was positive for the team. "This is the first time in my experience with Blair baseball that we remained so close with Damascus," Baird said, who finished with two hits and is hitting .353 on the season. "I'm ready for a lot of firsts this season."

The Blazers' next home game is Friday, April 11 against Magruder at 7 p.m



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