When Howard knotted the score at 3-3 in the fifth inning of the Class 4A state quarterfinal at Severna Park on June 15, longtime Falcon fans may have had unwelcome memories of the 2018 state championship in which Howard stormed back with four runs in the seventh to steal the game away from Severna Park.
This time, the No. 1 seeded Falcons never let No. 8 Howard seize the lead. Pitcher Michael Bowles found his groove, Severna Park’s batters stayed patient at the plate, and the home team left with an 8-3 victory, its undefeated season intact.
“We talked about that all day last night, all day this morning,” said Luke Herz, who reached base four times. “It was all on our minds and we needed revenge big time.
“It got tense for a minute in the fifth inning, but we know we can hit and all we have to do is put the ball in play.”
The Falcons got on the board in the first inning. Jackson Merrill walked, stole second base and then moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Tucker McDonough. Herz slashed a pitch down the third-base line to bring Merrill home for the 1-0 lead. Herz came up to bat in another pressure situation in the second inning. With two outs, he hit another single to drive in Robert Weaver, putting Severna Park ahead 2-0.
The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the fourth inning. As he has done all year, Merrill capitalized on a pitcher’s mistake, a 3-0 pitch, crushing it to center field.
“I knew (Howard pitcher Van Switzer) wasn’t trying to pitch to me, but I was like, ‘3-0, if it’s there, I’m going to take a big hack,’” Merrill said after the game.
Severna Park’s three-run lead didn’t last long. At the top of the fifth, Howard batter Cooper Haberern singled to left field. Consecutive bunt singles by Nathan Black and Ryan Anderson loaded the bases with no outs. Ben Fader put Howard on the scoreboard with an RBI groundout and Jake Keller followed suit. With the score 3-2 Severna Park, Howard’s Daniel Kim hit a pitch to left field to score another run. With the game tied 3-3, Bowles settled down after Falcons head coach Eric Milton visited the mound to give this simple advice: throw strikes.
“I have so much faith in this team,” Bowles said after the game. “We can always hit. Our bats are really good, and our defense is good too. I can just throw for strikes, and if the ball is hit, I know the people behind me will get it.”
That’s exactly what happened during the next at-bat. Bowles got some help from James Henson III, who stretched out to haul in a fly ball for the final out of the inning.
Severna Park answered Howard’s challenge in the next inning. Leading off, Andrew Bashor launched a ball that caused the Howard centerfielder to turn left, then right, before watching the ball sail over his head for a leadoff double. Weaver and Henson both reached base, allowing Merrill to record his second RBI of the game with a sacrifice fly. The Falcons weren’t don’t there. The Falcons executed a double steal as the speedy Henson bought just enough time for Weaver to score, increasing Severna Park’s lead to 5-3.
Bowles was able to get three quick outs from Howard in the top of the sixth on a strikeout and two groundouts. Herz reached base again in the bottom of the sixth. Daniel Key stepped to the plate and slugged a fastball over the outfield fence to put Severna Park ahead 7-3. Catcher Drew Crowley — who played a pivotal role in helping Bowles stymie Howard’s bats — joined the offensive breakout after he slapped a single to left field and then advanced to second base on a wild pitch. A Bashor walk and a single by Weaver loaded the bases with no outs. Showing that they can score runs in a variety of ways, Severna Park got one more insurance run on a sacrifice fly by Henson.
Two Howard batters reached base in the bottom of the seventh, but Bowles was able to end the threat.
“Bowles is a great pitcher,” Herz said. “He’s got ice in his veins, big time, and deserves way more credit than he gets. The way he got out of that inning when it was 3-3, to keep pushing with the bases loaded, and get out of that inning and finish the game was huge.”
Severna Park is scheduled to host the No. 4 seed, Laurel, in a state semifinal matchup Thursday at 4:15pm. Tickets must be purchased in advance on GoFan.
“We’re going to come out with aggression and good attitude, so I think we’re good,” Merrill said.
Milton feels good about his team’s preparation.
“These guys are ready. They have been ready all year,” Milton said. “We had a talk just to say, ‘Hey, let’s do it again tomorrow.’ Whether it’s practice or a game, these guys show up ready to play and they work hard.”