Catonsville, Md. – Garrett College routed a pair of higher-seeded opponents by a combined score of 28-2 in last Tuesday's NJCAA Division II Region XX baseball sub-regional at Cecil College. The Lakers' reward was a regional Final Four match-up last Friday at CCBC-Catonsville against top-seeded and nationally ranked Frederick Community College, which came into the tournament 16-0 against Division II Region XX opposition this season.
All of which made Garrett's 14-12 upset of FCC – climaxed by a six-run eighth inning that Bryant Scheuch capped with a grand slam – even sweeter. That allowed the Lakers to reach the winners' bracket finals, where they acquitted themselves admirably in a 4-3 loss to second-seeded CCBC-Essex. Frederick eventually eliminated the Lakers in the losers' bracket final, but the Cougars had to hang on for a 10-8 victory as GC pushed the pre-tournament favorites to the limit.
"They played up to their capabilities throughout the tournament – and they refused to go away," said GC head coach Eric Hallenbeck of his squad, which finished third in the eight-team tournament.
"I really think the two games with us took a toll on Frederick. They really didn't have anything left for Essex," observed Hallenbeck, referring to Frederick's 16-7 loss to Essex (27-24) in Sunday's region title game.
The eighth-seeded Lakers – who finished the regular season on a six-game losing streak – blanked fifth-seeded CCBC-Dundalk, 16-0 in six innings, and routed fourth-seeded host Cecil College, 12-2 in seven innings, in last Tuesday's three-team sub-regional. That earned GC one of the four slots in last weekend's double-elimination Region XX Final Four.
While the Lakers (23-29-1) didn't bring much momentum into the tournament, Hallenbeck actually used that potential negative to emphasize the virtues of a fresh start.
"I just told them, 'Hey, we're in the playoffs and everyone's 0-0. Qualifying for the regional tournament was one of our main goals and we've achieved it. It's a new season and everybody's starting from scratch,' " said Hallenbeck. "The important thing was for us to play like we were capable of playing and to try to make a run."
They did that and more, hanging a 16-0 loss on fifth-seeded CCBC-Dundalk and then blasting fourth-seeded host Cecil College, 12-2, during Tuesday's sub-regional. Zach Uhazie spaced 2 hits and 5 walks with 8 strikeouts in a six-inning shutout against Dundalk. Reilly Rutgers yielding 2 runs (1 earned) on 6 hits and 4 walks over six innings versus Cecil. Doug Pollock pitched a scoreless seventh to finish off the Cecil win.
"We got two good pitching performances and some solid defense as well," Hallenbeck said of the sub-regional games.
It didn't hurt that the offense went a combined 21-for-60 (.350 batting average) in the sub-regional. Alfonse Sadallah was a combined 5-for-9 with 5 runs and 3 RBI while Brian Casper was 3-for-6 with 3 walks, 4 runs, 5 RBI, a homer and a double. Cody Hammond had a combined 3 hits, 4 runs and 2 RBI to help bolster the offense in the sub-regional.
"We just played well the whole day on Tuesday," said Hallenbeck.
Those games, however, were simply a warm-up for Friday's showdown with Frederick, which started play last Friday with a 34-15 record and a No. 20 national ranking. Hallenbeck said his squad seemed nervous in warm-ups, but he tried to put his team's opportunity into perspective.
"It seemed like a couple of guys were up tight and I said, 'Guys, what are we uptight about? We're playing with house money. Just relax, go have fun, and go get 'em,' " recalled Hallenbeck, who was pleased with the opportunity to play the Cougars. "Frederick was 16-0 in Division II. There are too many good teams in Region X Division II for them to run the table. I felt like we could play with them."
The Cougars, who faced an early 3-0 deficit, scored nine straight runs and had a 9-3 lead after six innings before FCC lifted starting pitcher Nick Pantos. Uhazie (2-for-5) delivered a three-run double to cap a five-run seventh that pulled Garrett within 9-8, but FCC tacked on what looked like three insurance runs in the home seventh for a 12-8 cushion.
GC, however, responded with its six-run eighth to regain the lead and the Lakers' bullpen then slammed the door on their favored opponent. Hammond earned the win with 1 1/3 innings of shutout relief while Uhazie pitched a perfect ninth with two strikeouts to claim the save.
The Lakers roughed up three Frederick relievers for 11 runs on 9 hits in three innings after Pantos had held GC to 3 runs on 3 hits with 9 strikeouts and just 2 walks over the first 6 frames.
While Hallenbeck earned his 300th win as Garrett's head coach earlier this season, he said none of his previous victories compared with the upset of FCC.
"That was my best win at Garrett by far," said Hallenbeck. "To be the eighth seed, against the No. 1 seed who hadn't lost any D-II games all season. . . . I told the guys I was very proud of them."
Sadallah (2 runs) had 3 hits while Jacob Hughes (2 runs, 2 RBI), Zarek Simkovich (2 runs), Casper (2 runs), and Uhazie each had two hits to power Garrett's 14-hit attack. Logan Appel (2 runs, 3 RBI), Eric Naylor (2 runs, 2 RBI), Mitch Long (2 runs, RBI), and Brady Harju (run) each had two hits for Frederick.
CCBC-Essex, a 6-5 winner over CCBC-Catonsville in Friday's other winners' bracket semifinal, rallied past Garrett, 4-3, in Saturday's winners' bracket final. The Knights took the lead for good with a two-run fifth.
Essex pitchers Adam Bliss, Rolando Heredia-Bustos and Chase Ritter combined on a 5-hitter while the top three hitters in the Knights' order – Max Tracey, Julio Creazzola, and Nelson Laviosa – combined for 5 hits, 2 runs, and 2 RBI. For Garrett, Sadallah walked three times and scored twice.
Rutgers took the loss for GC, allowing 3 runs (2 earned) on 7 hits over 4 2/3 innings with 4 strikeouts. Three relievers – Cole Holsinger, Hammond, and Simkovich – kept the Lakers in the game by combining to allow a run on 3 hits over the last 3 1/3 innings.
GC's loss to Essex set up the rematch with Frederick in the losers' bracket finals. The Lakers, seeking a second straight upset against the regional power, raced to early 4-0 and 6-2 leads.
Frederick, however, used a two-run second to pull within 6-4 and took the lead for good with a five-run third. The Lakers twice cut their deficit to two runs, but could get no closer.
Naylor had a home run, a walk, and 3 RBI while scoring twice to lead FCC in its second game against Garrett. Teammate Hayden Kissel went 3-for-5 with a triple, 2 runs and an RBI. Thomas Gonzalez and Dillon Cooperrider each had 2 hits and scored a run for the Cougars.
Sadallah (2-for-3, run, RBI, two walks) was the only Laker with multiple hits in the second Frederick game while reaching base four times. Casper and Derek Gaisbauer each had a hit, scored a run and chipped in 2 RBI.
Pollock took the pitching loss, yielding 9 runs (but only 4 of them earned) on 7 hits and 5 walks in 5 innings.
Garrett battered FCC starting pitcher Keagan McGinnis, who allowed 5 runs on 2 hits and 4 walks in 1-plus innings of work. However, Cougar relievers Sean Clark and Brayden Coe combined to pitch 8 innings while giving up only 3 runs on 4 hits.
While he would have liked to have gone further, Hallenbeck was thoroughly pleased with his team's effort.
"A break here and a break there and we would have been going on to the district tournament, but you can't have everything," said Hallenbeck, who was most pleased with the positive impression his players left on those with whom they came into contact.
"I got so many compliments from people at the tournament over how we conducted ourselves," said Hallenbeck. "Even at the Hampton Inn, they were sad to see us leave. They told us we were the best team they've had stay there as far as how the kids conducted themselves. I think we made the college and college community very proud of us."