Hard work usually pays dividends and it sure did for Gilman junior Drew Ehrlich Tuesday night at Ripken’s Leidos Field in Aberdeen.
Ehrlich was the hardest working man on the field as No. 13 Gilman stunned top-ranked Archbishop Spalding, 6-5, in 9 innings to force the “IF” game in the double-elimination MIAA A Conference baseball finals. The Greyhounds (18-12) will be looking to spoil what up to this point has been a banner season for the Cavaliers (26-5) as the two teams meet again Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Loyola Blakefield to settle it.
Spalding is seeking its third consecutive A Conference crown, but Ehrlich and his mates hope to prevent it.
In forcing the extra game, Ehrlich caught the first five innings, then took off the mask and gear and pitched the last four innings of the game and notched the win in relief thanks to his own ground single to left scoring Emmanuel Engermann from second base with two outs in the top of the 9th. Ehrlich, who left two runners stranded in each of the 7th, 8th and 9th innings, closed it out in the last inning by coaxing two Cavaliers to hit ground balls to third baseman Max Costes for force outs at third.
While not wanting to take all the credit for his yeoman performance, Ehrlich said afterwards, “It was a great team effort.” Ehrlich was the fourth pitcher used by coach Larry Sheets in his pitch by committee scheme. “Those last couple innings were tough, but our defense did a great job of picking me up. It was really a team effort. It was a really fun win and we have to come out and do it tomorrow.”
Ehrlich gave up just one run in the four innings he worked. It was on a game tying double by Barrett Smith in the bottom of the seventh that sent the game into extra innings at 5-5. Smith’s two-bagger was one of only two hits yielded by Ehrlich and he walked two (also an intentional walk) and struck out three as he artfully mixed a slow-breaking slider with his fast ball.
“I felt comfortable on the mound, really comfortable with my arm slot,” said Ehrlich. “I tried to work them outside and it worked especially my little slider.”
Coach Sheets, the ex-Baltimore Orioles’ outfielder, said that pitching-by-committee with Ehrlich closing has been effective for the Hounds. They have gone 4-1 in the post season tournament, the only loss by 11-1 to Spalding and they have won nine of their last 11 games overall.
“He’s (Ehrlich) such a good athlete,” said Sheets. “It’s not my idea to catch a kid and pitch a kid but he’s a workhorse and he did a wonderful job today.”
Costes homered in the first inning for the Hounds, who snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Cavs dating back to 2013. Gilman got to Spalding’s senior left-handed ace, Tyler Blohm erupting for four huge runs in the third inning highlighted by Pierce Bennett’s two-run double. The Cavaliers also committed two errors in the crucial frame.
“He (Blohm) gave us good innings,” said Spalding coach Joe Palumbo. “We didn’t field their bunts which is uncharacteristic for us. They got to us in that inning and when we tied it up, we just couldn’t get that last run (against Ehrlich).”
Blohm came into the game at 9-0 and left after seven innings with a no-decision. In his stint, he did not give up a hit after the third inning and at one point, he retired 10 in a row. Throwing 115 pitches, Blohm gave up five hits, walked one and hit a batter while striking out 12.
Smith had three hits on the night, including his clutch double in the seventh and he tripled leading off the second inning and scored Spalding’s first run on a passed ball.
Smith’s run tied the game at one, but the Greyhounds took a rather commanding 5-1 lead in the top of the third.
Spalding bounced back with three runs in the bottom of the fifth to make it a 5-4 game. The Cavs took advantage of a Gilman error and Nick Vermillion delivered a two-run single into right center off Costes, the third Gilman pitcher. Ehrlich then came on in the sixth and got it done.
Sheets felt that his players had more time to prepare for Blohm after the latter two-hit them in the 11-1 loss.
“I talk to the kids all the time that there are some pitchers you need to get three swings against and he’s one of those pitchers,” said the Gilman skipper. “We played a little small ball. It’s high school baseball and you put pressure on people and you never know what’s going to happen.”
Sheets knows the task ahead in the “”IF” game is not going to be easy, but is confident his kids will go after what would be the upset of the high school baseball season after Spalding has gone wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the metro area.
“We’re playing on house money,” said Sheets. “We’ve battled and had our tough times this season, but we have a great bunch of kids. I’m really proud of them. Spalding has been awfully good the last few years and this (last night) is a big win for the Gilman baseball program.”