Unranked Loyola has pulled off one of the biggest feats ever in the MIAA A Conference Baseball Tournament by upsetting the top two seeds in No. 1 Calvert Hall, 2-1 on Monday in 9 innings, and No. 2 Archbishop Spalding, the three-time defending champion, 3-1 on Wednesday. The Dons advance to Sunday’s finals at Harford Community College and will have to be beaten Sunday and Monday in the double elimination tournament not to win their first championship since 1946.
Back then the MIAA was known as the Maryland Scholastic Association (MSA).
Their opponent on Sunday will be the winner of Spalding at Calvert Hall on Friday. The Hall (24-3) eliminated No. 18 Archbishop Curley (15-14) by 3-2 in Wednesday’s losers’ bracket game and as the higher seed gets the home game over Spalding (21-7) on Friday.
Junior third-baseman/pitcher AJ Holcomb was clearly the man who put the Dons in the driver’s seat by 2.2 innings of scoreless baseball in relief. One of the great things about high school baseball is that one player can dominate and take over a game as Holcomb did.
Groups win and lose as a team, but occasionally a special player can be the show – and – Holcomb was the show in Severn on Wednesday afternoon.
Loyola went into the post-season not deterred at going 9-9 in the A Conference and 10-13 overall taking the fourth seed.
“I tell everybody that we can beat anybody and lose to anybody,” said Loyola’s first-year head coach Mike Kelly, who was an assistant coach to Jimmy Crowley for several seasons before taking the reins when the latter stepped down after the 2016 season.
And that’s exactly what the Dons have done in 2017 knocking off such ranked teams as St. Mary’s twice (6-2 and 8-7), Gilman (8-3) and Spalding (8-5) while losing one-run games to Calvert Hall (4-3) and Gilman (9-8), in addition to the two big-time upsets in the post-season this week. Their competitive DNA makes them the first team to advance to the finals unbeaten with a .500 regular season record and losing record (12-13) overall in over 35 years at least.
“We knew we could do it,” said Holcomb who has committed to Virginia Tech as a position player. “I think we are on track now. Our chemistry is awesome and we are feeling good.”
The Dons (a Don by the way is a matador if you have ever wondered) have won three in a row after losing three in a row which is typical of their season.
“We are very aggressive and our kids wanted to win bad and beat a really tough pitcher and player in Vermillion (Nick) whom I really respect,” said coach Kelly.
Vermillion pitched six strong innings, save for two encounters with Holcomb. Holcomb broke up a 0-0 deadlock between Vermillion and Loyola sophomore right-hander Matt Wyatt, who did not give up a hit in the 4.1 innings he worked, with a bomb over the center-field fence with two outs in the fourth.
Loyola got two of their four hits off Vermillion in the fifth to take a 2-0 lead. Freshman JV call-up, infielder Dom Dinoto singled Jack Glock to third with two outs and No. 9 batter Jack Reinhardt stroked his second single of the game to right-field to make it 2-zip Loyola.
Spalding scored its only run in the bottom half when Wyatt hit his second batter of the game and gave up his second walk. Holcomb came on and Peter Godrick delivered a sac-fly to make it 2-1. The run was charged to Wyatt.
Loyola got a huge run in the top of the sixth as Holcomb took Vermillion deep again on a 3-2 fast ball over the fence in right-center.
“I got a pitch I could drive and did,” said Holcomb.
Spalding coach Joe Palumbo, whose Cavs lost a game in last year’s tourney on the way to a third straight crown, is really impressed with Holcomb saying, “He has a big league and D-1 approach to hitting and their lineup is as good as any in the league. We didn’t hit the baseball and get going offensively.”
The Cavs did not get their first hit until Justin Caesar led off the bottom of the sixth with a single to left and Matt Palumbo was hit by a pitch to put two on for No. 3 hitter Vermillion. Holcomb coaxed the slugger into popping up, but walked cleanup batter Kris Burkowski to load the bases. Bearing down, Holcomb rung up a ‘K’ and threw a ground ball to end the threat.
In the Cavs’ final at-bat, Holcomb retired the first two batters before Alex Green singled to left to bring up the top of the order. Caesar worked the count to 3-2 before popping up to first baseman Brent Peterson to end it.
Defending champion Spalding will have to win three in a row to cop their fourth consecutive championship.
MIAA A CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT GAME 9
LOYOLA BLAKEFELD 3, No. 2 ARCHBISHOP SPALDING 1
LOYOLA BLAKEFIELD (12-13) 000 111 0 — 3 5 1
ARCHBISHOP SPALDING (21-7) 000 010 0 — 1 2 0
L – Matt Wyatt, AJ Holcomb (5) and Hunter Spalt.
AS – Nick Vermillion, Spencer Sherman (7) and Jack Triolo.
WP – Wyatt (L) LP – Vermillion (AS)
2B: LOY-Jack Glock.
HR: LOY-AJ Holcomb (2).