THURMONT — Trailing by three runs early in a playoff game, Catoctin baseball players didn’t appear to panic.
No one would’ve blamed them for doing so, though, considering all the underclassmen on the Cougars’ roster.
“This is the youngest team I’ve ever coached,” longtime Catoctin coach Mike Franklin said. “And they played like they were old tonight.”
Well, one of them was actually old, at least for a high school player.
That would be Mark Rogers, the Cougars’ lone senior, the one who had put in countless hours of batting practice the past few years, preparing for situations like the one he faced on Saturday.
Stepping to the plate with two outs, runners on first and second and the game tied in the bottom of the seventh, Rogers drove in the game-winning run with a single to left-center, lifting the Cougars to a stirring 4-3 comeback win over Brunswick in the Class 1A West Section II semifinals.
The Cougars advance to Tuesday’s section final, where they will host Boonsboro, a 13-7 winner over Clear Spring in the other semifinal. Catoctin (15-5) swept the Warriors during the regular season, winning 5-4 and 9-2.
After the game, a couple water cooler-toting Cougars tried to douse Rogers. They didn’t soak the fast-reacting senior as much as they wanted to, but the gesture showed how much the team appreciated his heroics.
Aside from his game-winning hit, Rogers knocked in Catoctin’s first run with a sac fly and, relieving stellar starter Mason Albright, pitched a scoreless seventh inning to earn the victory.
“To have our only senior be the last guy on the mound and the guy to get intentionally walked to and get the game-winning hit, you can’t script it any better than that,” Franklin said.
Rogers came to the plate after teammate Dustin Isanogle was intentionally walked with first base open, giving the Railroaders a chance to get force outs at first, second or third.
“I had no doubt in mind that I wanted that at-bat,” Rogers said. “As soon as Dustin got walked, I was mentally ready for that.”
As Albright pointed out, Rogers has been clutch all season. The senior has led the Cougars in hitting and ranked among Frederick County’s top hitters.
When talking about Rogers, Franklin gestured toward the batting cage and recalled how often Rogers and his father worked on the player’s hitting after practices. The coach also mentioned how Rogers, who usually starts, is 6-0 on the mound.
But Rogers had to do more this year than just hit or pitch.
“With a young group, they need someone to lead them,” he said. “And I’m glad to take that on.”
Rogers’ big hit came after several of his younger teammates came through in the seventh. Sophomore Bryson Caballero led off with a single, advanced to second on Ayden Shadle’s sac bunt and advanced to third on sophomore Dylan Click’s infield single.
Caballero then scored on a safety squeeze by Briar Castellow.
“They never believed they weren’t going to win this game,” Franklin said. “It’s what they’ve done all year. It comes down to some small ball in the seventh inning.”
The late-game drama came after both starters, left-handed sophomore Albright and Brunswick senior right-hander Tyler Polesky, dueled it out for the first six innings before giving way to relievers. Both turned in strong outings, as they have done all season, but both suffered misfortune.
Polesky retired the first two batters he faced in the sixth, when the Railroaders led 3-1. He got what appeared to be the third out when Rogers swung at a pitch in the dirt, but Rogers ran to first and didn’t draw a throw.
“I realized I swung at a bad pitch that I shouldn’t have swung at,” Rogers said. “But as soon as it hit the ground, I just took off.”
Later in the inning, freshman Logan Simanski ripped a bullet liner that popped out of the shortstop’s glove, plating a run.
Earlier this season, Polesky threw 6 1-3 innings in a 9-0 win over Catoctin, and he turned in another quality outing on Saturday.
“That’s what he’s given us all year,” Brunswick coach Roger Dawson said. “We were in position to win the ballgame. Unfortunately, we didn’t make a couple plays that extended his pitch count and forced me take him out in the seventh.”
Albright had some bad breaks, too, despite another dominant outing in which the sophomore struck out 14.
After a fielder’s choice on a sac failed to produce an out and Albright slipped while trying to chase down a another bunt, the pitcher was in a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the fourth inning.
Two of those runs scored when Dalton Cooper hit a single off the bat handle to shallow left-center, and the other scored on Kyle Cruz’s single.
Still, Albright notched three strikeouts to keep a tough inning from being even worse.
“That’s the time that seniors who have been around awhile come unglued,” Franklin said. “And here’s a sophomore, you look at his mannerisms, [he’s like], ‘No big deal. I’ll get the next out.’”
Knowing who they were up against, the Railroaders felt good about taking a 3-0 lead.
“He’s probably the best left-hander in the state, as far as I’m concerned,” Dawson said. “We did exactly what we needed to do, we did some small ball, punched a couple runs. I thought we had what we needed.”
Brunswick, which also depended on many underclassmen this season, finishes with a 9-11 record.
We won nine ballgames this year, and we went up against a real good ballclub here,” Dawson said. “A break or two or make a couple plays, and we’re playing Tuesday night.”