Archbishop Spalding went wire to wire as VSN’s No. 1 ranked high school baseball team living up to preseason predictions by winning its third consecutive MIAA A Conference championship, although No. 10 Gilman Schooldid give the Cavaliers a little scare at the end by forcing the “If” game in the double elimination post season tournament.

Top-ranked Spalding (27-5) and No. 2 Bel Air (19-4) of Harford County, the public school’s Class 4A State champions, highlight VSN’s final poll for 2016.

Fourth-year coach Joe Palumbo masterfully guided the Cavaliers to their encore championship. Palumbo handled his pitching very well and used ace left-hander Tyler Blohm (9-0), the Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year, in all the right games. The Spalding coach also established continuity and a special team chemistry, attributes that start at the top.

Palumbo never changed his batting order and starting lineup.

“These kids were committed from day one,” Palumbo often said. “They believed in each other and covered each other’s back. After losing to Gilman by 6-5 in nine innings, they knew what they had to do to win it all and they did it. They were a special group.”

Spalding avenged their loss to Gilman in the finals with a 5-3 triumph over the Greyhounds, the following day, for the A Conference crown.

Before the season, Bel Air coach John Swanson said, “We will be young in some regards, but seasoned in experience and expectations.”

How right the coach was as his war-ready Bobcats defeated Bowie of Prince George’s County, 8-0 in the 4A State semifinals and then a very good Quince Orchard of Montgomery County, 8-1 in the state final after eliminating three ranked or previously ranked teams in the 4A North Region. Bel Air downed No. 20 Kenwood, 12-1; previously ranked Catonsville, a team that upset one of the pre-region favorites and then-No. 4 Dulaney, 7-2 before losing to the Bobcats, 1-0; and then-No. 6 Howard, 3-0.

Howard eliminated Montgomery County power, Sherwood, 5-0 before losing the 4A North Region final to Bel Air by 5-0.

Bel Air started the season as VSN’s No. 6 team, got up to No. 5 before falling to No. 8 and then No. 12 right before the playoffs. After advancing to the state semis, Bel Air shot up from No. 12 to No. 6.

The rest of the poll is pretty much the same as the week before with Gilman making the only major jump from No. 14 to No. 10 after its showing in the MIAA A Conference Tournament. The top 10 teams feature No. 1 Spalding, Gilman (10) and third place Calvert Hall (5) from the A Conference, Anne Arundel’s top two teams in Chesapeake (3) and Severna Park (4), Harford’s top two in Bel Air (2) and Patterson Mill (6), Howard County’s top two in Howard (7) and River Hill (9) and Baltimore County’s best in Dulaney (8).
In the final 10 teams, they basically fell like dominos after the results of the closing week with 16 through 20 remaining intact, but Boys’ Latin School (12-8), the MIAA B Conference champion by 7-4 over Severn School landed in a tie for No. 20.

It was truly a year of shuffling up and down in the rankings from the top teams in the five counties we cover – Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil, Harford and Howard – plus Baltimore city – with Archbishop Spalding the only mainstay at No. 1 from start to finish.

RANK    TEAM RECORD
01 Archbishop Spalding 27-5 (1)
MIAA A Conference Champions, 3x
02 Bel Air High School 19-4 (6)
Class 4A State Champions
03 Chesapeake High School – AA 21-4 (2)
3A State Runner-up
04 Severna Park High School 19-4 (3)
4A East Region Finalist
05 Calvert Hall
17-12 (5)
3rd MIAA A Conference Tournament
06 Patterson Mill High School 20-3 (4)
1A State Runner-up
07 Howard High School 16-6 (6)
4A North Region Finalist
08 Dulaney High School 17-4 (8)
4A North Region Semifinalist
09 River Hill High School 16-5 (9)
3A East Region Semifinalist
10 Gilman School 18-12 (14)
MIAA A Conference Runner-up
11 Old Mill High School 16-7 (10)
4A East Region Semifinalist
12 Marriotts Ridge High School 16-6 (11)
2A West Region Finalist
13 Mount Hebron High School 15-7 (20)
3A East Region Finalist
14 Westminster High School 15-4 (15)
3A West Region Semifinalist
15 Arundel High School 16-5 (13)
3A East Region Quarterfinalist
16 Reservoir High School 13-6 (13)
3A East Region Quarterfinalist
17 Glenelg High School 13-6 (17)
3A East Region Semifinalist
18 Aberdeen High School 15-7 (18)
3A State Semifinalist
19 Francis Scott Key High School 16-6 (19)
2A West Region Semifinalist
20t Boys’ Latin School of Maryland 12-8 (NR)   
MIAA B Conference Champions
20t North Harford High School 14-8 (18)
3A North Region Semifinalist