PORTAGE – Though Wednesday’s game didn’t mean much to Maryland State after already clinching the No. 1 seed out of Pool C, Crabfest treated its matchup with Youngstown as an elimination contest.
Maryland State had never won its pool or finished undefeated in preliminary play. Crabfest, however, was finally able to check both items off its list.
Despite an uncharacteristic slow start offensively, Crabfest responded with another showing of strong relief pitching, as it claimed a 6-5 victory over the Youngstown Creekside Crocodiles to complete pool play unbeaten.
“To be moving on and after winning the pool feels wonderful,” Maryland State manager Izzy Taylor said. “I got a message that we weren’t expected to win the pool. Well, I’m glad we were able to prove everyone wrong. We had to make plays today to come back from being behind, but the kids kept playing. It was a good showing for us.”
Maryland State, which has never won a tournament championship but has finished runner-up twice, will take on Pool D second-place finisher New Brunswick (2-1) at 11 a.m. Thursday at Roxbury Park.
“Tomorrow starts a whole different style of play,” Taylor said. “I was kind of glad this game against Youngstown was a tournament-style game. I think it prepared us well for our matchup against New Brunswick, who is a quality team. I know the guys and I are excited to see how far we can go, but I know that we don’t want to stop.”
Maryland State’s high-profile offense came into the contest against Youngstown averaging 12.5 runs over its first two contests, but Crocodiles starter Dylan Dingle, who compiled 10 strikeouts in six innings, kept the Crabfest bats quiet early.
Through three innings, Maryland State managed just one baserunner, a double by James Holladay, as Youngstown held a 1-0 lead. Dingle fanned the first two batters of the fourth inning before Crabfest began to adjust.
Emanuel Morales singled, and Samuel Canela reached on an error. After a wild pitch moved both runners up, Alex Rivera dropped a two-run single into right-center field to put Crabfest in front. Rivera later scored on an overthrow to third base while he was attempting to steal, and Maryland State led 3-1 through four frames.
“I felt like I needed to get my team involved in the game,” Rivera said. “As soon as that inning started, I huddled the team together, and we locked in. The opportunities started to present themselves from then on, and we all started to come through when we needed it most.”
However, Youngstown (0-3) did not go away. The Crocodiles responded with three runs of their own in the fifth on a two-RBI single by Christian Gabriel and a run-scoring groundout by Dom Stilliana to regain the lead, 4-3.
“We battled for nine innings today,” Youngstown manager Bob Mingo said. “I can’t say enough about our pitchers, the way they performed and did their best to maintain Maryland’s strong lineup. My kids came and played with heart, and that’s all I can ask for.”
Much like on Wednesday, it was Maryland State’s relief pitching that carried Crabfest late in the game.
Rivera entered the game in the sixth inning and threw three scoreless frames, allowing zero hits, walking four and striking out one, while eventually tallying the victory. Rivera held off two Crocodile threats, where Youngstown had two runners in scoring position, in both the seventh and eighth innings.
Jacob Petti then made his second appearance in as many days in the ninth inning, earning the save.
“My fastball location and pitching to contact was key for me today,” Rivera said. “I was doing my best to change speeds between my fastball, curveball and changeup. My catcher (Jordan Daddio) was really helping me out from behind the plate. He knows how to cool me down and adjust my pitches to make sure they’re effective. I have to tip my cap to him and my teammates for helping me.”
Maryland State scored a run apiece in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to claim the advantage it would never lose.
Morales tied the game in the sixth on an opposite-field solo home run before Daddio drew a bases-loaded walk in the seventh to put the Crocodiles in front 5-4. Crabfest added an insurance run in the eighth when Elijah Hanible scored on an error.
Youngstown’s Chase Franken drove in Grant Williams with a sacrifice fly in the ninth to set the final.
“I’m very happy with our guys,” Mingo said. “All of our games were close in the tournament. Even though we were 0-3, the team is all diehards and it showed. We were missing two starting infielders and one of our top pitchers, but the guys did their best to look past it and played their hardest.
“I’m very proud of them.”