Before the start of the seventh inning on Friday, Damascus Post 171 pitching coach Daryl Keys pulled his starter, Grant Dickey, aside and rested his hands on Dickey's shoulders.
The rest of the team was huddled around manager Tommy Davis in front of Post 171's dugout, while the conference between Keys and Dickey was happening a few feet away under the lights at Kelley Park in Gaithersburg.
Dickey, who was three outs away from pitching a shutout that would send his club to the American Legion Maryland state championship tournament, liked what he heard.
“He told me to have fun with these three outs,” Dickey said of his chat with Keys. “And that he wasn't going to take me out.”
Dickey made quick work of Sandy Spring Post 68's final three batters of the game, putting the finishing touches on Damascus' 8-0 victory against last year's state champions in the double-elimination Montgomery County tournament. The sturdy right-hander allowed four hits, walked two and struck out two as he pitched to contact and pounded the strike zone. While Sandy Spring stung a few balls, nearly all of them were right at Post 171's outfielders.
“If you're talking about the ability to throw first-pitch strikes and control, you're talking Grant Dickey,” Davis said of the Sherwood High School graduate. “If he's going to throw strikes and we're going to make the plays behind him, it's going to force a team to really string some hits together and it's a tough match for them to do that.”
Damascus' big inning was the bottom of the third. The regular season champs (21-4) scored six runs — four off of Post 68 left-handed starter Kyle Cassidy and two against right-handed reliever Marcus Hailstock. Post 171's Zach Thompson stroked a two-run double into the left field corner and John Hanley and Michael Zerafa also delivered doubles in the decisive frame.
“I'm so proud of everyone. They've put in so much work during the season to get us that first seed and we really came together today and put together that big inning,” said leadoff batter and center fielder Emory McMinn. “We did what we've been doing all season stepped it up when it counted.”
Despite the loss, Post 68's season isn't over. They'll have the opportunity to make the state tournament by winning a play-in game against a team (to be determined) from Anne Arundel County at 1 p.m. Sunday at Severna Park High School. Sandy Spring won the play-in game last season before going on to dominate the state tournament.
Damascus, meanwhile, will open the tournament against the host, Cumberland Post 13, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Veterans Field in Cumberland. It will be Post 171's first state tournament appearance since Damascus became the first American Legion team from Montgomery County to win a state title in 2000.
“We know what it takes,” Davis said. “We think the components are there, but we're going to have to prove it on the field. But going up there with the club we have, we're fine with that. We're looking forward to having some fun and playing good baseball.”