For five innings Sunday afternoon, the Montgomery College baseball team could not record a clutch hit. The Raptors threatened to score a couple of times, but Prince George's Community College starting pitcher Andrew Byrd was able to escape unscathed on the scoreboard with several timely strikeouts.
But in the bottom of the sixth inning, Montgomery College designated hitter Sam Stefanelli did something rarely experienced on the baseball diamond. The St. Vincent Pallotti High School graduate led off the inning with a well-hit single to center field. Later in the frame with the bases loaded, he tripled to center field to drive in three runs.
Stefanelli's single sparked a seven-run rally, and the Raptors went on to win the National Junior College Athletic Association's Division III Region XX championship, 10-2, over visiting PGCC at Gryphon Park in Germantown. It is Montgomery College's seventh region title in eight years, and the Raptors earned a berth into the College World Series in Texas, which is scheduled to begin May 25. The win also established a new single-season record for victories (40-15) for the fifth-ranked team in the nation.
“Our goal was to get to Texas,” said Stefanelli, who did not play in the postseason last year due to a head injury “Our mission is to win it all. Hopefully we achieve our mission.”
Added Raptors coach Dan Rascher: “I've never seen [a single and triple in the same inning], but Sam has been doing it all year for us.”
For five innings on Sunday, Montgomery College's batters were uncharacteristically flustered by the right-handed Byrd, a Henry A. Wise graduate. He allowed three walks, hit three batters, surrendered eight hits, but was able to pitch around his mistakes with 10 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings (131 pitches).
Trailing 2-0 in the sixth, the first three Montgomery College batters reached on two singles and a walk. Following a strikeout, Byrd then hit Nick Kuczarski (Urbana) to force in a run. Ian Velez (Col. Zadok Magruder) then hit a soft ground ball back to Byrd, but Byrd's throw to home sailed to the backstop. Byrd, who was visibly frustrated, did not cover the plate on the play, allowing two runs to score.
The Raptors fourth run was scored by Kuczarski on a successful safety squeeze by Max Heldman (Gaithersburg).
Three batters later with the bases loaded, Stefanelli hit the RBI triple.
“That was the first time,” Stefanelli said of recording a single and triple in the same inning. “I don't know if that will happen again.
William Lopez then came on the relieve Byrd on the mound. Lopez later allowed three runs in the bottom of the eighth, but finished the game.
“Things just didn't go our way,” PGCC (13-32) coach Buddy Foster said. “We made a couple mental mistakes.”
Raptors starting pitcher Jack Souder (Pallotti), meanwhile, had a strong and efficient outing by scattering four hits, three strikeouts and two walks in 6 1/3 innings. Reliever Jameson McGrane, a Winston Churchill graduate, held PGCC scoreless to finish the contest.
“Jack kept us in the game,” Stefanelli said. “It was overcast and windy and I don't know if it had anything to do with us not hitting early, but we knew our bats would get going and we eventually had a big inning that decided the game.”
PGCC took the lead in the top of the fifth when Chris Brown, who led off the inning with a double, scored on a wild pitch. Sharukh Ali put the Owls up 2-0 with a RBI groundout.
“PG baseball is on its way up,” Foster said. The Owls split a pair of games with the Raptors during the regular season and lost 2-1 during the double elimination tournament on Saturday. “We play a lot of Division I and II teams in the regular season to prepare for the Division III playoffs. Montgomery knows we are on the map now. They aren't going to underestimate us anymore.”
No. 5 Montgomery College 10, Prince George's Community College 2
PGCC (11-32) 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 — 2
Montgomery (40-15) 0 0 0 0 0 7 0 3 X — 10