LILLY – With a berth in the AAABA Tournament quarterfinals on the line, both Maryland State and Youngstown were searching for a distinct edge to advance to Thursday’s knockout round.
Maryland State pushed the issue on the basepaths, using its collective athleticism to steal seven bases as a team. The aggressiveness paid off as Crabfest was able to scratch across four runs largely based on causing havoc on the bases. Maryland State (2-1) advanced out of Pool D as the No. 2 seed by holding off a late Youngstown rally in the ninth to prevail 4-3 at Lilly-Washington War Memorial Field.
“Obviously, when you’re playing for advancement and both teams have a shot, it’s tough. You got to take everybody’s punch,” Maryland State manager Sean O’Connor said. “Every groundball was a hard 90. We found ways to get extra bases. We scored four runs, and I don’t know if all of them were quite deserved. But by effort, they were.”
Maryland State will play Pool C winner Philadelphia (3-0) on Thursday.
Youngstown (1-2) led 2-0 after the first and then allowed four unanswered runs between the second and fourth innings. The Creekside Crocodiles had the potential tying run at third base, but Brandon Cook was able to induce a flyout to end the game.
“That’s a bad situation when you leave too many men on base,” said Youngstown manager Bob Mingo, referring to eight runners his team stranded. “That’s been our MO for the other two games. We just didn’t get the key hit.”
This will be Maryland State’s second time in the quarterfinals since pool play started in 2016.
Joseph Quelch earned the victory after allowing three unearned runs in six innings. Cook and Nicholas Quinn both stole two bases. Joshua Jackson, Quinn and Trey Terry all produced two hits for Maryland State.
Matthew Gibson was the lone Crocodile to collect two hits. Maryland State finished with a 12-7 advantage in hits.
Youngstown went ahead with a pair of runs in the first. A run scored on an error, and Tyler Zaluski’s RBI single made it 2-0. A runner was thrown out at the plate to end the frame.
In the second with runners at the corners, Maryland State pulled off a double steal. Quelch scampered home as the throw went to second base. Eric Holz’s RBI single knotted the game at 2-all. Holz tried to score from second base as Kendall Jordan’s knock hit off Pat O’Shaughnessy’s face, but the first baseman retrieved the ball and gunned down Holz at the plate.
Cook began the third with a leadoff single, then stole second and third base. The latter came before hurler Michael Nuzzo (nine strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings) got his signal. Cook then scored on Jackson’s RBI single.
Maryland State’s speed was on display again in the fourth. Elijah Hanible swiped second base with two outs, then scored the eventual game-winning run on Jackson’s RBI single to center to lead 4-2.
“You push the issue, push the tempo and try to make all 27 outs at home,” O’Connor described his team’s baserunning strategy. “The unique part is our kids are making those decisions on their own. Brandon decides to steal third base because he sees a guy put his head down. You can’t coach that.”
Maryland State’s savvy baserunning proved to be the difference.
“Small ball is a lost art and it’s a shame because it can win you ballgames,” Mingo said.
O’Shaughnessy’s sac fly in the fifth brought Youngstown within 4-3.
After a leadoff walk in the ninth, a sacrifice bunt moved Youngstown pinch runner Jamin Wetling to second base. A controversial out call at first moved Wetling 90 feet away with two outs. But the final out was recorded in left-center field.