A pitcher’s duel was at the forefront of Friday’s contest between the top two teams in the Maryland Collegiate Baseball League, the Gaithersburg Giants and the visiting KOA Sports Warriors, at Criswell Automotive Field at Kelley Park. The game remained scoreless for the first four innings, before KOA broke through with three runs in the top of the fifth. The Warriors went on to secure 4-1 victory over the Giants.
The two teams are now tied at the top of the standings with 21 conference points.
The Giants, the feeder team for the organization’s Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League team, sent Thayer Seely, a right-handed pitcher from Dickerson and a Poolesville High School graduate who is set to attend Towson University in the fall, to the mound as the starter. He was strong for 4 1/3 innings before being pulled due to a pitch count. The one run Seely allowed scored as an inherited runner off of reliever Sean Van Giesen (Rockville resident).
“Seely’s been excellent for us all year,” said Gaithersburg coach Michael McMillen, who also serves as coach of Gaithersburg High School’s junior varsity squad during the spring.
Entering Friday, Seely held a 1.26 earned-run average over 14 1/3 innings with 18 strikeouts. Several relievers followed Seely Friday with 4.2 innings of three-run ball.
KOA, a Bethesda-based team, put together a rally in the top of the fifth inning. With the bases loaded, KOA’s David Rauber hit a single to right off Van Giesen for the first run and Ben Prada followed suit with a hot shot that Giants’ center fielder Ian Velez couldn’t quite handle for another run. The third run in the inning came on Max Steinhorn’s single that found a way through the infield when Giants’ shortstop Max Heldman slid over to cover second base with the runner in motion.
After the rally, Van Giesen and the rest of the Giants’ relievers settled down and kept KOA at bay, save for a RBI groundout from KOA’s Daniel Vucovich. But as well as the Giants’ pitching staff performed, KOA’s was even better.
Warriors’ starter Eric Brodkowitz pitched seven shutout innings. His only true test came in the bottom of the seventh, when Gaithersburg loaded the bases with just one out. Brodkowitz induced a strikeout and a groundout to escape the jam.
The Giants’ bats woke in the bottom of the ninth with one out and trailing 4-0. Third baseman Evan Small (Westminster, S.C.) scored on catcher Travis Smith’s (Darnestown) double to cut the lead to 4-1. But it was too little, too late and KOA sealed the victory with the final two outs.
“I think we’re all just pressing too much, just a little too anxious at the plate,” said Velez, a Derwood resident and Col. Zadok Magruder graduate who was hitting .362 going into Friday’s game. “The strong points of our season has been pitching and defense and our hitting’s been struggling. But when they throw a good arm like that, you’ve got to be patient. You’ve got to work the count, get ahead in the count. You’ve got to put the ball in play and be productive.”
The Giants, despite the loss, are 21-11 this summer have four games remaining on their regular season schedule and will continue to compete with KOA (21-8) for the top spot in the league. McMillen hopes his players get the bats going at the right time, but still believes they have an opportunity to compete for the league title.
“We certainly want to win out,” McMillen said. “The top seed would be great. Losing to KOA tonight put them in a deadlock with us. They’ve got the upper hand. Looking at their schedule and our schedule going forward, they’ve got a little easier task then we do. We need to take it one game at a time and hope for the best.”
The Giants are scheduled to play a doubleheader against Dig In Baseball Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.