Two of the county’s top pitchers squared off at Severna Park High School on April 10 in a rematch of last year’s regional championship game, and both brought their very best to the mound.
In the end, Severna Park’s Reid Kowalski narrowly outdueled Arundel’s Cooper Hibbs, and Tommy Weyand struck late to lead the Falcons (4-5) to a 1-0 victory over the Wildcats (4-3).
Kowalski was masterful all afternoon, quickly mowing down the Arundel lineup as he faced the minimum batters through the first five innings. The senior ace pitched a complete game shutout, surrendering just four hits, walking one and striking out three in seven innings to shut down the Wildcats offense and raise the Falcons’ record to 3-3 in county play this season.
“I know Cooper’s a good pitcher and I knew there was a good chance (this was going to be a one-run game), but after a couple innings it really set in that this was going to be close,” Kowalski said after the game. “In the beginning, I was keeping the ball low and trying to move inside and out. My curveball felt the best it has in a couple weeks, so that was big- I wanted to be able to throw the curve and keep them guessing.”
Kowalski’s stellar performance was matched nearly pitch-for-pitch by Hibbs, who gave up just two hits in six innings while walking two and striking out four. However, in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Falcons were able to plate the only run they would need to secure the win for Kowalski.
Danny Fulton led off the sixth with a single, then reached second and third on a passed ball and a wild pitch. With one out and Fulton on third, Weyand hit a towering, first-pitch fly ball to left field, affording Fulton plenty of time to tag up and score the decisive run.
Weyand’s RBI sac fly, however, may not have even been his best play of the inning.
In the top half of the sixth, the Wildcats were threatening with designated hitter A.J. Robinson on second and shortstop Bradley Hovatter on first with one out after a walk and hit batsman. Junior Syeed Mahdi laced a liner into left field but Weyand quickly fielded it and hit cutoff man Grant Millenburg, who fired a strike to catcher Colin McCarthy to gun down Robinson on a play at the plate. Kowalski then induced a fly out to right fight field to escape the jam and set his team up for the win.
The Falcons could have easily had another run or two of breathing room were it not for Mahdi’s heroics in center field. In the second inning, he tracked down a well-hit fly by designated hitter Sam Lewis and coolly snagged it with an over-the-shoulder grab. But the robbery against Lewis was just a small-time job compared with his grand heist of first baseman James Carran a few innings later.
Carran looked like he may have had the Falcons’ first home run of the season when he launched a fastball to dead center in the bottom of the fourth. Mahdi turned and raced straight back, tracking the ball over his head, then jumped and twisted his body midair to snatch the ball and squeeze it before slamming face first into the center-field fence, with the sound of the impact reverberating throughout the field before being drowned out by cheers from amazed fans of both teams.
“I haven’t seen a catch like that defensively in a long time,” said Arundel Head Coach Jason Lively. “That’s a big time catch.”
The county season may be young, but the win was nevertheless an important one for the Falcons, who hope it marks a reversal of early-season misfortune. The win, according to first-year Head Coach Eric Milton, was as important for its effect on the team’s mentality as it was for its effect on the standings.
“The beginning of the year, these kinds of games weren’t going our way – a couple bounces here and there – and today it did. It’s great for our guys’ confidence,” Milton said. “We need to get on a roll and we need to do it now, and this is a big stepping stone for where we’re going and where we want to be at the end of the year. This is a big one.”
For the Wildcats, the loss confirmed what Lively and his team already knew: They can pitch with anyone, but the offense needs to wake up from a season-long slumber. There are plenty of reasons for hope, however, as last year’s offense started off slowly before it crescendoed all the way to a memorable run to the state championship game.
“We’ll fix the bats. I was telling them earlier today, it’s like a school of penguins- once one jumps, they all jump. So we need one person to take the lead, we just have to determine who that guy is. As long as we’re playing the best ball late in the season, I’m happy.”
As for the pitching, Lively was effusive with praise for his 1-2 combination of Hibbs and senior Steven Ghiardi.
“I love my pitching staff. Coop’s been a leader ever since he was a sophomore. He’s one heck of a guy. You look at Steve- he’s 0-2 but I think he’s one of the best pitchers in the state, he’s a great pitcher,” Lively said. “Those two guys got us where we were last year, and those two guys are – not hope – are going to lead us to where we want to be at the end of the year.”
To view a gallery of photos from this game, click here or visit ArundelVoice.com/Galleries.