Stiars’ 3-run triple and the bookend pitching of Wright’s Wright propels CMW to the 3A state title game
by Pat O’Malley
Neither his name nor number was on the C. Milton Wright roster printed for the media and officials, at Tuesday’s 3A baseball state semifinals, but a lot of people now know who wears No. 26 for the Mustangs.
Zach Stiars (pronounced Stairs), wearing No. 26, drilled a bases-clearing three-bagger to deep left, in the top of the first inning, propelling C. Milton Wright of the Upper Chesapeake Athletic Conference (UCBAC) to a 4-2 victory over Northern-Calvertat Joe Cannon Stadium in Anne Arundel County to propel C. Milton Wright.
The Mustangs’ Hunter Wright, who was identified with his No. 4 on the roster, also made a name for himself, as the left-hander made the start for CMW, pitched five strong innings, returned an inning later and closed out the game, pulling off the rare feat of earning both the win and the save in the same game.
Stiars’ booming blast gave Wright a cushion and the stylish southpaw took it from there, blanking the Southern Maryland Patriots through five innings before leaving the bump to start the bottom of the sixth. The junior was hastened back to hold off the Mustangs’ rallying foe.
“We ran into a good pitcher and that’s what happens at the state tournament level,” said Northern’s 10th year coach Bobby Gibbons.
No argument from CMW first-year coach Mike Amaral, who added, “Hunter is a gamer. You can’t tell if he is getting rattled or not. He’s just the same emotion every time. I can’t say enough about him. He’s been lights out.”
As a result, the No. 15 Mustangs (13-9) will play in a state final for the first time since 2010, the year they won the only State baseball championship in the Harford County school’s history under coach Tony Blackburn, who is now the athletic director at Bel Air High School. This year’s edition, under Amaral, will play James M. Bennett of the Eastern Shore for the Class 3A State Championship, 7:00 p.m. Saturday, at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen.
The Mustangs were 8-9 and unranked when the playoffs began and have reeled off five wins in succession to get to the State final.
Bennett (15-4) edged defending 3A State champion Thomas Johnson (17-7) of Frederick, 3-2, in the first state semi played at Cannon in one hour and 30 minutes. The Clippers, who have co-head coaches, have won three state championships, the last two in 2012 and 2011, the first in 2006.
C. Milton Wright jumped right on Northern starter, Marcus Lee Sang, also a lefty, who got leadoff batter Eric Brettschneider on a ground ball to third before plucking Nick Kopczynski with a pitch. Senior centerfielder Jake Spurlock, who is the Mustangs’ leading hitter at .449, then singled to left and cleanup batter Wright reached on error to load
After Dominic Jankovich fouled out to third baseman Grayson Lewis, that “who-dat guy,” No. 26 Stiars took a strike and on the next pitch launched a bomb to left as three Mustangs streaked to the house.
When asked if it was his biggest hit of the year, Stiars nonchalantly answered, “Probably, it was one of them, yeah. I just swung the bat man, swung he bat. It was crucial.”
Sang got the third out in the first and would then hook up in a dual of excellent high school left-handers the rest of the way.
“You saw two very good left-handers dueling out there tonight,” said coach Gibbons. “Both of them were very, very good. We had lots of opportunities where we left guys on base because when their pitcher needed to bear down and get an out, he got the out. He did a great job of shutting down any potential rallies that we could put runs on the board. Their pitcher did a great job against us.”
In the bottom of the first, Sang singled off Wright to start things, but was picked off first base with Jarman batting and on the ensuing pitch, Jarman singled. Mason Davidson then hit into a 4-6-3 DP to end the inning.
Wright, who would go five scoreless innings yielding only five hits, stranded two runners in the second frame, retired seven in a row from the last two hitters in the third until the first pair in the fifth, the second on a spectacular diving catch by Spurlock in center-field.
No. 9 batter Zach Crounse doubled with two outs in the fifth and Wright gave up his only walk to Stang.
Two pitches later, Wright picked off his second runner on a well-executed play with second baseman, Lucas Frezza to quell the threat.
Fans were rather stunned when Wright, with a 4-0 lead (the Stangs had added the fourth run on a knock by Jankovich in the third), was not on the bump when the Stangs took the field in the bottom of the sixth and the Patriots’ 2-3-4 hitters due up.
Sophomore Joe Burns (3-0) was on the hill instead and after he got the first two hitters, the Mustang faithful relaxed until the next three got hits. Nick White started it with a single and scored on a triple by Nick Cook. Bryce Leslie followed with single to score Cook.
Suddenly, it was 4-2 Mustangs with the tying run coming to the plate and coach Amaral recalled Wright.
“We gambled on trying to save Wright to possibly pitch Saturday in the championship game,” said Amaral. “We thought 4-0 was a good gamble to take Hunter out. We had confidence in our guy coming in but once it didn’t work out, Hunter is the kind of kid we can take out and put back in. He would need four days rest after 75 pitches thrown.”
Wright had thrown 68 pitches through five innings and had he gotten to 75, he would be out pitching on Saturday. He ended up finishing the game and throwing a total of 92 pitches, and won’t be pitching at all three days from now because of the state pitch count rules that continue to be questioned by a lot of coaches and fans.
After giving up a single on a 3-2 pitch, Wright struck out the next batter to end the sixth and retired the Patriots in order in the seventh in style by striking out the last two batters to set off a wild celebration.
“My curve ball wasn’t working as well as I thought it would be, but I got the job done,” said Wright, whose line was 6.1 innings, 92 pitches, six hits, eight K’s and one walk, leaving him a perfect 5-0 this season.
“We had been struggling this season, but we got our energy now late in the year and started hitting the ball. Now we’re hitting the ball like crazy.”
No doubt, the Mustangs got the key hits off Sang who went the distance for the Patriots on 95 pitches through seven innings. Sang only gave up five hits, struck out three, walked only one but hit three batters and two of them scored.
Coach Amaral says his guys will be ready for the challenge Saturday night.
“Anybody can beat anybody, just believe it,” said Amaral, a former JV coach for 10 years under the very successful Bel Air coach John Swanson, who is retiring after winning state titles in 2013 and 2016.
Pictured above: Despite being omitted from the roster, Zach Stiars delivered a bases-clearing two-base knock in the first inning that would prove crucial in CMW’s state semifinal victory.
3A BASEBALL STATE SEMIFINALS
(at Joe Cannon Stadium)
No. 15 C.MILTON WRIGHT 4, NORTHERN-CALVERT 2
C. Milton Wright (13-9) 301 000 0 – 4 5 1
Northern-Calvert (15-6) 000 002 0 – 2 9 2
Hunter Wright, Joe Burns (6), Wright (6) and Nick Kopczynski; Marcus Lee Sang and Zach Crounse.
2B: N—Grayson Lewis, Crounse.
3B: CMW—Zach Stiars; N—Nick Cook.
WP–Wright (5-0) LP–Sang (5-1) SAVE–Wright