Thirty years after South River made its only other appearance in the state baseball final, the Seahawks can at last proclaim themselves champions of Maryland.
The Seahawks’ outstanding season came to a deserved end in the Class 4A state final at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen on May 24, as senior pitcher Scott Mitchell hurled a two-hit shutout, the offense put up six runs on nine hits and South River sent retiring 35th-year manager Ken Dunn out on top with a 6-0 win over Catonsville and the program’s first-ever state championship.
The victory puts an exclamation point on South River’s late-season surge that saw the Seahawks reel off nine consecutive victories to finish at 20-5 overall. In five playoff wins over Chesapeake, Broadneck, North County, Eleanor Roosevelt and Catonsville, the Seahawks outscored the opposition 26-2 and posted four shutouts.
Craig Sheridan struck out 10 batters in a masterful one-hit shutout in the state semifinal against Roosevelt at University of Maryland on May 21 to set up the final showdown with Catonsville and the Seahawks’ championship-winning performance.
As fate would have it, the state title win was a storybook finish to the managerial career of Dunn, who will step down as manager after holding the post for three and a half decades.
“I knew that these kids were as tough as anybody we’ve ever had,” said Dunn, following the win. “The kids did a great job … the commitment the guys have made, they’ve bought into what we’ve given them, and they’ve been busting their humps.”
Mitchell, a senior who improved to 8-0 and lowered his season ERA to a miniscule 0.31 with the complete-game shutout, struck out nine Catonsville batters and carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before surrendering a two-out single to the Comets’ Scott Beautz.
He remained in the zone, however, getting out of the sixth inning unscathed and striking out the final two batters in the bottom of the seventh to put South River in the history books.
“I felt the emotion, the adrenaline. It all comes together. It helps me. I love it,” said Mitchell of his mindset on the mound. The senior, like all of his teammates, expressed his joy at winning the title in Dunn’s final game as manager. “Coach Dunn, he’s the man,” said Mitchell. “We did this for Coach Dunn. I told him earlier, he’s the best man, he’s the best coach I’ve ever had, funniest guy I’ve ever met, he’s a character, and it’s all for him, and it’s an incredible experience for us.”
South River needed a turn through the lineup before getting to Catonsville starter John Klein in the third inning. Kyle Canavan sparked the Seahawks’ scoring with a one-out double, and he scored when Connor Cox doubled to the wall in right field.
The Comets almost ended the no-hit bid in the bottom of the third inning when Klein roped a line drive to left, but Nick Raimondo’s sensational diving catch ranging in and to his right robbed Klein of a hit to keep Mitchell and the Seahawks rolling.
Catcher and four-year starter Jake Gratz singled to start the fourth inning, and pinch runner Jake Donaldson advanced to third on a double by Raimondo. Both runners scored when Austin Wright’s hard grounder went through the wickets of Catonsville shortstop Joey Getzendanner, and South River led 3-0.
After striking out the Catonsville side in the bottom of the fourth, Mitchell helped his own cause in the top of the fifth by smacking a leadoff double, and he scored on a single by Brody Raimondo to give the Seahawks a 4-0 lead.
Mitchell again did damage in the sixth, doubling to right field to plate Kyle Leonard and Gabe Vertucci and put the Seahawks out to a 6-0 lead.
The Comets’ Ryan Whittington managed a one-out single off Mitchell in the seventh, but the South River ace struck the final two batters to put the game to rest.
After the final out, the players swarmed to the mound and crashed onto one another in pileup celebration as the South River families and students roared from the stands.
Dunn spoke of the win as a broad collective effort made possible by the longtime support of numerous volunteers, including assistant coaches, parents, donors, past players, trainers and school administrators.
“South River’s a great place to be. We’ve got a lot of support,” said Dunn, who named countless individuals who have helped the program in myriad ways over the years. He also stressed the work ethic of his players. “These kids deserved to be in there, and they’ve just gotten better and better and better, and it came to fruition tonight … It’s a credit to what they’ve done and the commitment they’ve made for four years.”
The players talked about the pride they feel in bringing South River its first baseball crown and of the close-knit nature of the team.
“The fact that we’re the only team at South River to win the state championship is unbeatable,” said Cox. “It’s just special to be able to say that forever.”
“These are my best friends in the entire world,” said Sheridan, a senior. “They’re my family, my second family. It’s a team game, and I love every single one of them. This is the best way to go out.”