The last team into the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference baseball playoffs, Bishop McNamara, was also the last team out and by the slimmest of margins, falling 3-2 to second-seeded Paul VI (Va.) in the third game of the three-game championship series Sunday.
Trailing 3-1 in the top of the seventh with two on and two out, Mustangs third baseman Hunter Mohler blasted a pitch from Panthers starter Braedon Lawson off the tall left field fence at the University of Maryland's Shipley Field. The hard hit ball looked like it had the potential to drive in John Hopkins and Connor Hax's courtesy runner, Reginald Ware, to tie the game.
Hopkins, however, missed third base and had to go back to touch it before then racing home to trim the lead to 3-2. Ware broke back to second when Hopkins turned around and he only reached third on the play. Mustangs catcher Corey Fields then softly lined to the middle of the infield, where Paul VI shortstop Richard Mancari bare-handed the ball and threw to first to end the game.
“He was watching the ball and missed third base and had to come back and touch third base,” said McNamara coach Larry Prange, whose eighth-seeded squad defeated top-seeded St. John's and fourth-seeded St. Mary's Ryken to reach the championship series. “It was just one of those things. He might have thought it was going out and just missed third base.
“We couldn't be prouder of our guys. That's a great baseball team over there and our guys fought them tooth and nail the whole series. The series could have gone either way. Our guys … fought as hard as they could.”
McNamara's play in the first four innings of Sunday's contest closely resembled that of a great defensive football team that employed a bend-but-don't-break strategy. Hax, McNamara's starting pitcher, and his teammates allowed a couple of batters to reach base in each inning only to turn them back, including throwing out a runner at home plate on a suicide squeeze attempt in the fourth inning.
That strategy was finally exposed in the fifth inning when a double, a costly fielder's choice that produced no outs, an intentional walk, a two-run single and an error gave the Mustangs a 3-1 lead.
Mitchell Aker doubled to start the inning and after a groundout by Blake McCrea, Mancari grounded the ball to third but instead of checking the runner and throwing to first, Mohler made a diving tag of Aker that failed.
Following an intentional walk to load the bases, Lucas Martinez slapped a single to right field to score two runners. Another runner scored when the McNamara right fielder misplayed the groundball for a 3-1 lead.
“It's tough to [see it] happen, especially when you're leading 1-0 in the fifth,” said Hax, who went 3-for-3 with a double in the series finale. “Everyone was feeling good. It kind of put us down. They're a good team over there.”
Prange said he pulled Hax in favor of ace pitcher Taylor Stiles following the intentional walk in the hopes of recording a strikeout. Stiles blew his first pitch past the batter, but Martinez fouled the next offering to the right side with a late swing. Down two strikes, Martinez stuck his bat out and caught the outside pitch for the base hit.
“It was just such a high-pressure situation; I knew I had to fight,” said Martinez, who plays on the same summer league baseball team as Stiles and Hax. “I knew I couldn't take anything close. I mean, it was off the plate. It might have been a ball, I'm not sure, but I just stuck the bat out, trying to make contact. Luckily, it fell.”
McNamara scored the first run of the game in the third inning on an infield hit, a hit batsman and then an error at second base that scored Hopkins from third. Hopkins started the rally with an infield hit, reached second on the hit batsman and then third on a wild pitch before scoring on a ground ball by Stiles to the Paul VI second baseman, who could not field the ball cleanly.
Paul VI 3, Bishop McNamara 2
McNamara (13-18) 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 2 9 1
Paul VI (x-x) 0 0 0 0 3 0 x 3 5 2
WP Braedon Lawson. LP Taylor Stiles. 2B: McNamara Connor Hax, Hunter Mohler; Paul VI Aker. RBI: McNamara Hunter Mohler; Paul VI Martinez 2.