To say that the Cissel Saxon Post 41 baseball team entered Thursday’s Montgomery County American Legion semifinal as an underdog against Sandy Spring Post 68 would have been a significant understatement.
Sandy Spring, after all, had lost just once in 21 games, including three dominant victories against Cissel Saxon. Beyond that, Post 68’s pitcher on Thursday was Jack Linehan, who thew a one-hitter against Post 41 last month.
But funny things happen in the postseason.
In a back-and-forth contest between two of the better-hitting teams in the league, Cissel Saxon advanced to Tuesday’s championship game with a 7-5 victory against Post 68 at Col. Zadok Magruder High School. Post 68, which lost for the second time all summer, will play the winner of Thursday’s Gaithersburg Post 295-Damascus Post 171 matchup in an elimination game on Sunday. The winner of that game will advance to the title game to face Post 41.
“That’s why we play the game,” said Cissel Saxon coach Scott Dunlap. “They kicked our [butt] all season. I’m most proud of the guys because after we blew the four-run lead we kept scrapping.”
Post 68 scored four times in the bottom of the third to tie the game at 5-5, but a turning point came in the top of the fourth, as Cissel Saxon persevered through a potentially demoralizing play.
Leadoff batter Jimmy Brockett looped a ball to right field that landed on the grass. Sandy Spring right fielder Sean Van Geison charged the ball off the bat, fired to first base and got Brockett by half a step — a 9-3 putout.
However, following that out, Brian Alexa singled and Max Shannon followed with an infield hit. That brought Post 41’s hottest hitter to the plate in catcher Brian Battaglia. Alexa crossed the plate on wild pitch, and Battaglia then hit a double to deep right field to bring home Shannon.
“It was one of those things that in the moment we thought we could have been out of this,” Battaglia said. “We just bounced back after that and keep working.”
Cissel Saxon tagged Linehan for five runs in the first two innings. In the second, the first three batters all singled on the first pitch of their at-bats, leading to a three-run inning.
Post 41 was aggressive against Linehan all afternoon. Of the 21 batters the powerful right-hander faced, eight swung at the first pitch.
“You come out and you beat somebody three times during the season and you play them again in the playoffs, it’s hard to beat somebody four times,” said Post 68 coach Jeremy Hannan. “You learn things. You pick something up. Obviously they picked something up [against Linehan] and it worked for them.”
Post 41 starter Luke Olson, who pitched in relief Wednesday’s victory against Damascus Post 171, tossed four innings and allowed five runs (three earned) on eight hits. The sidearmer struck out two and didn’t walk a batter. He was relieved by hard-throwing lefty Max Shannon, who spun three scoreless innings. Shannon was originally tabbed to start the game, but proved just as effective in relief.
“We just had a little more fire in us,” Shannon said. “We wanted to come out and show them what we were about. It all just comes naturally to me. There’s no pressure since this is my third year in Legion.”
Trailing 5-1 heading to the bottom of the third, Post 68’s coaches spoke to their players in the dugout.
“All right,” they said. “This will be good. Let’s see how you deal with adversity.”
Sandy Spring has been so good this season, the team rarely has had to battle back. The response from Post 68 was swift and quick: a four-run third to tie the game.
With one out, leadoff batter Ian Velez (who went 3 for 4 with two doubles and two runs) doubled to right field. Olson then hit Joe Coleman to put runners on first and second with one out.
No. 3 hitter Andrew Daskalakis lined a ball to second baseman Colin Cox, who moved back and appeared to have a catch lined up. But the ball deflected off the top of his glove. Instead of a potential inning-ending double play, the bases were loaded. Van Geison and Chris Brown delivered back-to-back two-RBI hits to tie the game at 5-5.
Post 41’s resolve in the fourth and Shannon’s relief effort ensured the home team didn’t score again.
One bright spot in the late innings for Post 68 was crafty lefthander Kelby Spring, who delivered a sterling performance in relief, retiring 11 of the 12 batters he faced.
Cissel Saxon Post 41 7, Sandy Spring Post 68 5
Cissel Saxon Post 41 (15-8) 230 200 0 — 7 12 1
Sandy Spring Post 68 (20-2) 104 000 0 — 5 11 1
WP: Luke Olson. LP: Jack Linehan. SV: Max Shannon. 2B: Post 68 — Chris Brown, Ian Velez (2). Post 41 — Brian Battaglia (2), Luke Olson.