Being a young pitcher with just a handful of varsity starts, Linganore sophomore Matt Cunningham had every right to feel a little overwhelmed on Wednesday.
That’s when he got the nod to start against Thomas Johnson, the defending Class 3A state champ that knocked the Lancers out of the playoffs last season.
So, how did Cunningham react to this challenge?
“He was ready to go,” Lancers coach Dave Keiling said. “In fact, I had to dial him back a little bit, make sure he wasn’t overthrowing at the beginning of the game.”
With such a motivated mindset, Cunningham started off strong, escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fifth and threw an abbreviated one-hitter to help the host Lancers beat TJ 10-0 in six innings for their first victory of the season.
Cunningham entered Wednesday’s game with an understandably thin varsity pitching résumé, at least as a starter. He got one start last season, a game the Lancers won against South Hagerstown, and one earlier this season against North Hagerstown, a tied game that will be concluded later.
Nonetheless, the right-hander embraced the chance to start against the Patriots, not in spite of their recent success but because of it.
“Defending 3A state champions, knocked us out of the playoffs last year,” Keiling said. “He didn’t need any extra motivation.”
Cunningham struck out five, including the final batter he faced to end the sixth — the Lancers (1-3) ended the game via the 10-run rule by scoring in the bottom of the inning. The only hit he gave up came in the fourth, when Jacob Orr ripped a single to left field.
Cunningham kept the ball low, hoping to induce ground balls. This was a weather-inspired strategy on a day when wind-altered fly balls often led to errors or difficult catches.
“It was a windy day, the ball was blowing out,” he said. “If I let one up, you don’t know where it’s going.”
Grounders produced double plays in the second and fourth innings, and Cunningham praised his defense for helping him dodge danger.
“Those were big,” he said. “They got me out of some tough situations.”
But Cunningham had no such luxury when the Patriots, aided by errors, loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth. This potentially disastrous situation came after the Lancers broke a scoreless tie by rallying for six runs in the bottom of the fourth.
But Cunningham induced flyouts to second baseman Cole Lee — who had to run toward home to catch the dying ball — and first baseman Ben Moore, then notched a strikeout to end the threat.
“He got a couple people to pop up in the infield, jammed them with some good pitches,” Keiling said. “He doesn’t get rattled.”
Linganore then carried that momentum into the bottom of the fifth, adding three more runs on a day when they often plated runs with timely hits.
“Yesterday we left a lot of people on base,” said Linganore senior Dylan Miller, referring to Tuesday’s loss to Catoctin. “But we were able to get some timely hits, time up the pitcher well and make solid contact and drive those runs in today.”
Miller, a lefty batting in the No. 9 spot, had one of those hits, a two-run single in the six-run fourth. He also had an RBI groundout in the fifth, giving the Lancers a lot of production from the so-called bottom of the order.
“Coach designs the lineup really well. When he puts me at nine, I like to think of myself as sort of a second leadoff,” Miller said. “I just try to go up there and put a nice swing on the ball.”
No. 8 hitter Moore, another lefty, had a two-run single in the fifth. Jacob Ference, Ryan Barthlow and Cruz Cortez each had two hits for the Lancers (1-3).
“This is a big game for us,” Cunningham said. “We’re coming together.”
TJ starter AJ Enriquez pitched three scoreless innings before the Lancers strung together hits in the fourth.
“He threw the ball well today. Ran into a little hiccup there in the fourth inning, got behind some hitters. You get behind hitters, it’s a much easier at-bat for people to have,” TJ coach Billy Gross said. “But give it to Linganore, they took advantage. They swung the bats today, ready to hit the ball.”
It was the second straight loss for the Patriots (3-2).
“We are playing right now with no intensity, [like] we’re just happy to be here. It’s something that we need to figure out very quickly, or it’s going to be a very long season,” Gross said. “But we’ll get back it at tomorrow. We’ve got Urbana at home.”