Senior memories are special and unforgettable. Archbishop Spalding shortstop Dave Harding has a huge one, but not to be selfish, Harding is looking for one more and he and his Cavalier teammates will get a shot at it on Sunday, when they return to Ripken Stadium and the MIAA A Conference finals for a third consecutive year.
Harding unleashed a bomb over the fence in left-center on Friday leading off the bottom of the seventh in Severn to give the top-ranked and seeded Cavaliers a 5-4 victory over No. 5 ranked and second-seeded Calvert Hall. The Cavaliers (26-4), who have won back-to-back MIAA A Conference finals, will meet the winner of Friday’s final elimination game between No. 19 Gilman, which stayed alive on Wednesday with a 6-3 win over Mount St. Joseph, and Calvert Hall (17-11) in Towson.
“Dave was on time with the fast-ball for the first time of the day,” said Spalding coach Joe Palumbo. “He got us a win and it’s something he will remember for the rest of his life.”
Spalding’s opponent in the finals will have to beat the Cavaliers twice to prevent them from reeling off a third consecutive MIAA A Conference championship. Now that’s a senior memory for Harding and mates to remember forever with the underclassmen included.
“I’ve never hit a home run to win a game in my life,” said Harding beaming from ear to ear when asked if he ever had. “I’m not known for hitting home runs, but the whole game I was behind on the fast ball so, I was looking to get my foot down early and get on time with it.”
Before the final at-bat started, Palumbo told his guys they “didn’t need a game-winning home run, just quality at-bats.”
Harding, who will play at Princeton, abruptly ended the game the way centerfielder Billy Godrick started it for the Cavaliers. He jumped on the first pitch to him just as Godrick had done on Trevor Sprinkle’s first offering of the game in the bottom of the first. Godrick’s opposite field dinger to right ignited a four-run first against Sprinkle, Calvert Hall’s ace, senior right-hander.
A couple of walks and a Cardinal error, plus a RBI single by Spalding catcher Carter Sears put the visitors in an early hole. Sprinkle settled down after the first inning and finished the game with a five-hitter, with five walks and seven strikeouts on 92 pitches. The 92nd pitch was of course the Harding jack.
Cavalier starter Zach Thompson pitched well for the home team through five innings on 82 pitches, holding the Cards scoreless through the first three innings. Calvert Hall got on the board in the fourth on RBIs by Dariel Torres on a sacrifice fly and a double by Nathan Bosse to make it 4-2. The Hall would tie it up the next frame on a two-run dinger by junior catcher Garrett Matheny. JP Murphy had singled ahead of Matheny.
Thompson struck out the last two batters in the fifth and finished with six-hits given up, two walks, a hit-batter and six strikeouts. Palumbo went to Drew Hunt for the sixth inning.
“Zach gave us a chance to win even though he didn’t have his best stuff,” said Palumbo. “When you don’t have your best stuff and you hold Calvert Hall to just four runs through five innings, that’s pretty good. Drew (Hunt) pitched two huge innings for us.”
Hunt retired the first five Cardinals he faced before hitting Matheny with two outs in the seventh and then walking Ian Elliott to create a jam.
“At the end there, my fingers started slipping from sweat on my fast ball,” said Hunt. “I had to put some dirt on my fingers and figure it out from there. I had to use a whole new grip for my fast ball. I knew if I put the ball over the plate, my defense would be good.”
Hunt didn’t need his defense because he struck out the next batter to end the threat and set the stage for Harding. The latter made a winner out of Hunt who ran his record to 6-1 and he was confident that his mates would pull it out.
“It’s team-first mentality that gets us through,” said Hunt. “On our team you sacrifice yourself for the team. This is the last ride for the seniors and we really want to put everything into this. It will be the last time I will see some of these guys for a long time.
“We want to make it special for each other.”
And they can on Sunday, but it won’t be a piece of cake because beating a team as good as Calvert Hall for a fourth time (other two by 5-2 and 3-0) or if Gilman wins Friday, likewise.
“Its tough to beat anybody three times in this league, but we haven’t reached our goal yet,” said Palumbo. “These guys want to go out on top.”
Now that would be a senior memory.
NO. 1 ARCHBISHOP SPALDING 5, No. 5 CALVERT HALL 4
Calvert Hall (17-11) 000 220 0 – 4 6 2
Archbishop Spalding (26-4) 400 000 1 – 5 5 0
CH – Trevor Sprinkle and Garrett Matheny.
AS – Zach Thompson, Drew Hunt (6-1) and Carter Sears.
2B – CH – Ian Elliott (2), Nathan Bosse.
HR – AS – Billy Godrick, Dave Harding. CH – Garrett Matheny.