It wasn’t the type of game Frederick Community College baseball coach Rodney Bennett expected Tuesday.
He figured the contest would be tight between the Cougars and Community College of Baltimore County-Essex for the NJCAA Region XX, Division II championship. After all, the Knights were the defending regional champions, having defeated FCC in last year’s title game with ease.
Instead, the normally steady Essex bullpen collapsed. The Knights’ starting pitcher, Patrick Barrett, never retired a batter, walking three, hitting two and allowing eight runs on two hits.
Just 45 minutes into the game, FCC had the momentum and wasn’t about to let up. The Cougars batted around twice during the game, finishing with a 21-6 win and their first regional championship since 2015.
“It was very surprising,” Bennett said. “You don’t really expect to have that kind of an offensive output in a playoff scenario, but they had trouble throwing strikes early. We didn’t give in, swinging at bad pitches. We waited it out. When we did swing, we got key hits, moved runners around. Next thing you know, we had that big lead early.”
The win sets up a best-of-three district play-in series on Friday with Region XIX champion Lackawanna, of Pennsylvania. The Cougars and Falcons play Game 1 at 11 a.m., with Game 2 to follow.
Should a third game be necessary, it would be played Saturday. The winner of the play-in gets a ticket to the NJCAA Division II World Series in Enid, Oklahoma, beginning May 25.
FCC last played in the World Series in 2015.
With the Knights struggling on the mound from the get-go, the Cougars racked up 16 hits. FCC did most of its damage the first two innings.
The Cougars batted around in the first (15 batters) and second (11), racing to a 16-0 lead. FCC held a 20-0 lead after three innings.
Even with such a huge edge, Bennett kept his optimism guarded for a while.
“I really didn’t breathe easy until about the seventh inning,” he said. “This game meant so much, so no lead was safe.”
Eight of nine FCC starters had at least one hit. Jacob Wetzel had three hits with two RBIs. Hayden Kissel had two hits with a triple and five RBIs. Mitch Long had two hits with a double and three RBIs. Priamo Lozada had two hits with a double and two RBIs. Connor Hanafin had two hits with three RBIs. Kyle Schofield had two hits with two RBIs.
“We got off to a good start,” Lozada said. “The sophomores on our team were leading the way for us because we’ve got a lot of young guys on the team.”
Sophomore Brad Foster got the start on the mound for FCC. He struggled early, but once his teammates gave him such a big lead, he settled down, going five innings with seven strikeouts and four earned runs.
“I had some control issues at first, but then I settled into my groove,” Foster said. “I was more relaxed.”
Nick Karlinchak, Max Cannon and Max Proctor saw relief action for FCC the rest of the way.
“I wanted to keep Brad long enough so he could get the win,” Bennett said. “He’s done a nice job for us at FCC.”