ABERDEEN — Like so many high school baseball teams, Middletown entered this season with unanswered questions.
“In March, we didn’t know quite what we had with these guys, to be honest,” Knights coach Andy Baker said.
What they had, it turned out, was a team capable of contending for another state title.
By Saturday, that much was apparent. Not only were the Knights playing in a state championship game, they were leading by two runs despite facing a dominant pitcher, Ryan Calvert, and a La Plata team known for putting plenty of runs on the scoreboard.
But Middletown’s bid for a second state crown in three years fell short. The Warriors used an error and three hits to rally for four runs in the bottom of the fifth, beating the Knights 4-2 in the Class 2A state championship game at Ripken Stadium.
After the game, there were plenty of disappointed looks on the faces of Middletown players as they emerged from the dugout. But they had a bunch of autograph seekers waiting for them, kids wearing Middletown Knights shirts. And as the players signed hats, they knew they had just concluded one of their perennially strong program’s better seasons.
“To go from struggling at the beginning of the season to working our way up to have a chance to play here was great,” Middletown senior shortstop-pitcher Graham Brown said. “We didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but we fought every second of the way.”
That fight was necessary going up against Calvert, a 6-foot-4, junior right-hander who is drawing interest from colleges like Maryland and Penn State.
Calvert entered the state tournament with a 0.39 ERA and was a strikeout machine, piling up 104 in 53 2-3 innings. He pitched true to form against the Knights, getting 13 strikeouts and walking none.
“He’s just a good pitcher,” said Middletown’s Luke Pryor, a 6-foot-4 ace pitcher himself who started Saturday’s game. “He’s big, his ball moves, he’s got a good curveball, a good offspeed [pitch].”
Early on, when either team got runners on base in what was shaping up as a pitchers duel, they often followed with bunt attempts. Middletown (18-7) even had a failed suicide squeeze result in an out in the fourth.
“We were a little overmatched the first time around, so we were trying to get Luke one run, give him the lead, and go from there,” Baker said.
The Knights got that lead in the top of the fifth, when they managed three hits off Calvert. One, a single by No. 9 batter Jacob Pryor, plated a run when the ball rolled past the center fielder. And Brown followed with an RBI single to right, giving the Knights a 2-0 lead.
When asked about his hit off Calvert, Brown said. “Any way we could get on. My swing was a check swing.”
As Baker said, baseball is a sport that, at any level, can be dominated by a pitcher.
“And he is a dominant pitcher. He could do whatever he wanted when he wanted,” the coach said. “Kudos to our guys for battling and chipping away and getting a couple runs off of him and getting the lead for a little while.”
That 2-0 lead looked all-the-more promising because the Knights had Pryor on the mound. The right-hander held the Warriors (20-5) to one hit through the first four innings and retired the first two batters he faced in the fifth.
Then, the game took a turn. After Pryor issued a walk, La Plata’s freshman catcher, Chet Bowling, reached on a throwing error by the third baseman.
Next up was Calvert, who hit an opposite-field, two-run double. Austin Brown followed with an RBI single, then Zach Harris belted an RBI double to chase Pryor.
Calvert closed out the win with 1-2-3 innings in the sixth and seventh.
Pryor (9-2), a Mount St. Mary’s-bound senior, gave up four runs, none earned, on four hits in 4 2-3 innings. It was the final solid start in a season full of them.
Pryor kept his composure to escape an early threat. With the bases loaded and one out in the second, he was behind in the count 3-0 to Tyler Moody. But Pryor bounced back to get a full count and induced a grounder that led to a 6-4-3 double play, which first baseman Cole Crist completed with a scoop.
Both Baker and Brown, who pitched the final 1 1-3 innings, praised Pryor’s start.
“We knew that. He’s a dominant pitcher as well,” Baker said. “They’re a lot like us. They have good hitters, one through nine.”
The No. 9 spot occupied by Jacob Pryor (Luke’s cousin) was particularly productive for Middletown. Pryor got the Knights’ first hit in the third inning, lining an apparent single to left and using hustle to stretch it into a double.
“He had a heck of a day,” Luke Pryor said.
Luke Pryor, who played for the Knights when they won the Class 2A state title two years ago, enjoyed getting back to the final with this group.
“We wanted to be here, and this is where we got,” he said. “This is probably one of my favorite teams, ever.”
After the game, Middletown coaches complimented their players on their season.
“We couldn’t ask for anything more,” Baker said. “They played their hearts out.”