No. 1 Curley overcomes tough challenge from upstart Gilman to win MIAA A baseball title; first league crown since 2001 (VIDEO BROADCAST/INTERVIEWS/PHOTOS HERE!!)
by Gary Adornato
For all its firepower, top-ranked Archbishop Curley knew that the one final win it needed to claim the 2018 MIAA A Conference baseball championship would not come easy, and it didn’t.
The upstart and youthful Greyhounds of Gilman School, which had three freshman pitch in the biggest game of the year, battled Curley (28-4) through the first four innings, Monday night at Harford Community College, claiming leads of 2-1, in the top of third, and 3-2 in the top of the fourth. In the end, however, the Friars’ deep and talented lineup delivered, 1 through 9, rallying the team to a convincing 8-3 victory and the school’s first MIAA A Conference title since 2001.
Curley, which starts seven seniors, had all nine hitters in the lineup reach base in the game and seven of them had base hits, but perhaps the biggest blow of the night belonged to a sophomore.
With two-out and two on in the fifth and Curley holding a precarious 4-3 lead, sophomore third-baseman Gavin Evans blasted a ball high off the left field wall. The ball caromed back toward the infield, allowing Evans to race into third with a triple and two RBI. Senior Nick Richardson followed with a ringing double down the left field line, plating Evans and he came around to score on a single by Derrick Booker, vaulting the Curley lead to 8-3.
Evans, Richardson and Booker, Curley’s 7-8-9 hitters, combined for five hits, including a booming home run by Booker in the third, four runs scored and five RBI. Add to that a 2-for-2 effort with a walk and an RBI by six hole hitter Corey Burton and the Friars got quite a night from the back end of their lineup.
Curley also got a gutsy six-inning effort on the mound from senior ace Paul Nixon.
Nixon, who may not have had his best stuff, battled the Greyhounds throughout his outing, scattering six hits and a walk, as well as all three Gilman runs. He got some help in the seventh when Richardson came on to pitch a scoreless inning, striking out two, including Alex Slodzinski with two on and two out, to end the game.
“Overwhelmed,” said Nixon when asked for his reaction. “We worked so hard for this. It was four years of hard work of us being together. I don’t know what to say. This feels great right now.”
Curley opened the game with a bang, as senior shortstop Tyler Locklear launched a lead-off home run, in the bottom of the first, well over the left field fence.
Gilman freshman starter Peter Heubeck settled in soon thereafter, retiring the next three Friars in order and then held Curley scoreless in the second. Gilman (15-14) struck for the first time in the top of third when catcher Ryan Mallas got a leadoff single and his courtesy runner, Cole Philippou, moved to second on a fielder’s choice grounder. Gilman senior Max Costes followed with a line drive base hit to left and Philippou beat the throw to the plate with a head first slide to tie the game, 1-1.
Costes took second on the throw home and he promptly scored on a single to center by shortstop Casey Bishop, as Gilman led 2-1.
Nixon, who will play on the same diamond next spring when he begins his college career at HCC, expected Gilman to pose a tough challenge.
“This year, every game we’ve played (with Gilman) has been a close game. We knew they were going to come out and battle every pitch, every ground ball. You just have to buckle down.
“Guys came up with big hits,” added Nixon. “Booker came up with a big home run and got us a lot more momentum. We just had to fight through and keep pushing.”
Booker tied the game at 2-2 with a majestic blast over the right-field fence, leading off the Curley third and the Friars then put two on with one out with a walk by Locklear and a single by Nixon. Heubeck struck out the next two Friars to escape further damage and keep the game tied.
Gilman went back on top with a long home run to left-center by senior Mike Willis, leading off the fourth, but Nixon responded with two strikeouts and a ground out.
Curley would go ahead for good in the home half of the fourth. Burton earned a leadoff walk, but was forced at second by Evans, who beat the relay to first to avoid a double play. Richardson followed with a single, chasing Evans to third. Booker was up next and he hit a ground ball to short. Richardson was forced at second, but the relay to first went past the first baseman, allowing Evans to score.
Locklear’s second walk of the night advanced Booker to second and senior Jalen March plated what proved to be the winning run with an RBI single.
Curley coach Brooks Norris who was the winning pitcher in the final game when Curley won it’s last championship under the late and legendary Al Frank, choked up after the game.
“It’s a pretty special feeling,” said Norris. “I was just asked about Al Frank and, just thinking about it, it’s emotional. These guys, they are a really special group of kids. I’ve spent a lot of time with them, in the summer ball and all year round. We’ve had three of the guys with us for four years and a bunch of guys have been around since sophomore year.
“It’s been a long process and it’s been very special.”
Norris’ top assistant is none other than his father Timmy Norris who was also a winning pitcher for Curley in a championship game under Frank, as he defeated Poly, 4-1, at Memorial Stadium as Curley won the 1977 Maryland Scholastic Association (MSA) title.
While Curley’s seniors completed the mission they have chased for the last four years, Gilman’s young squad may be just beginning a similar journey.
“We’re a young ball club and you feel bad for your seniors, but the future is bright at Gilman and we look forward to turning the page and moving to (20)19,” said Gilman coach Larry Sheets.
While Gilman looks to 2019, Curley will savor 2018 for years to come.
After a season-opening loss, Curley went on a 10-game winning streak. That run ended when the Friars were no-hit by John Carroll’s Nick Collier, but a few games later they launched a 13-game winning streak that was finally snapped on the final day of the regular season. In the post-season, the title was claimed with a 12-2 win over Loyola and back-to-back wins over Gilman.
The offensive numbers were gaudy, as the Friars launched 40 home runs and scored 245 runs this spring. Nixon and Locklear each hit 10 home runs, while March and Gast-Woodard had six each.
MIAA A CONFERENCE BASEBALL FINALS
(at Harford Community College)
NO. 1 ARCHBISHOP CURLEY 8, NO. 14 GILMAN 3
GIL 002 100 0 — 3 8 1
AC 101 240 x — 8 12 1
Huebeck, Leikus (4), Tacka (5), Buckley (6) and Mallas; Nixon, Richardson (7) and Gast-Woodard
2B: GIL-Mallas; AC-Richardson.
HR: GIL-Willis; AC-Locklear, Booker.
Full game broadcast