Smithsburg turns its baseball legacy upsidedown

May 13, 2002|BY DAN SPEARS

On April 13, the Smithsburg baseball team stood pretty much where everyone expected: in the Monocacy Valley Athletic League's cellar with one win and four losses.

"I told the kids, 'Hey, the paper says that five losses will probably win it,'" first-year coach Bill Fowkes said. "I told them there wasn't much room left for error if we were going to win the thing."

Smithsburg? Win an MVAL baseball title? C'mon.

"We went to Brunswick and he said we needed a good week to stay alive," Smithsburg senior pitcher Nick Vierra said. "It was kinda weird."


Not nearly as strange as what followed, though.

Smithsburg beat the perennial powerhouse Railroaders that day, 5-2, and did nothing anyone expected on their way to a 10-8 record and a third-place tie in the MVAL.

Not even themselves.

"Maybe fourth place, or fifth place. Something in the middle," senior Brent Myers said. "But we knew we always had the talent to do it."

n Talent or not, winning somehow never happened at Smithsburg in the last decade. The 2002 senior class won six varsity games in their careers.


They won that many in a span of 12 days this season, starting with that win over Brunswick.

"We've always looked for the positive," Fowkes said. "We never dwelled on any negatives. We got one, and that gave them some confidence."

"Everybody just started clicking," senior catcher Adam Dick said. "When something goes right, everything falls into place. You field a ball right, then you get a hit at the plate, then you make the right pitch.

"That's the way high school baseball works."

But it took a play the way high school baseball doesn't work to convince the Leopards it was true.

On April 17, and on a not-so-modest two-game winning streak - remember, it was still the old Smithsburg at that point - the Leopards played South Hagerstown at Municipal Stadium. The teams had to complete a game suspended by darkness, then play their regularly scheduled contest.

Smithsburg trailed 8-3 in Game 1, but took the lead with a 12-run fifth inning. South tried to rally and Dick was illegally run over on a play at the plate. The benches emptied. The Leopards were furious.

They took it out on the Rebels, winning the nightcap, 9-8.

"We rallied behind that," Dick said. "Before, no one would have cared. This time, everyone was behind each other, and we realized, 'Hey, we want to win.'"

"It was a new thing after that," Vierra said. "We all played baseball that day. Coach said we turned the program around that day."

n Smithsburg's bandwagon hit a rut two days later in a crushing 10-8 loss to Middletown. The Leopards broke a sixth-inning tie with a two-run homer, only to allow four runs in the top of the seventh and lose.

But even afterward, the Leopards knew they weren't done.

"We've put ourselves in the pack," Fowkes said that day. "We've given ourselves a chance to have a good season."

They made the best of the situation, trouncing FSK and Williamsport to set up a three-games-in-four-days stretch that could make or break them.

And down went Walkersville. Then FSK again. Finally, the Leopards rallied three times to defeat archrival Boonsboro in eight innings to go to 10-5 and pull within 1 1/2 games of a seemingly impossible MVAL title.

"First the goal was six wins, then it was eight ... and then the last week we're in the hunt," Fowkes said. "We wanted to surprise some people. I guess we did more than that."

The last week of the season, though, was not what they expected at all. Three disappointing losses sent them out of the title hunt, and Walkersville avenged its earlier loss on the Leopards' home field to take a piece of the league title Smithsburg so desperately wanted.

"It was a lot of pressure," Myers said. "People threw their best pitchers against us every time, and we had to adjust to that. We took it a little too seriously, and then we messed up."

"It was overwhelming, to go from last to even and then in contention," Dick said. "I thought, 'Geez.' I wish we could have the last three over and see what happens, but I'm thankful for 10-8. We were just hoping to stay in touch with .500."

n It's the playoffs. Everyone - thankfully in the past, but not anymore in Smithsburg - is 0-0. Going 1-0 is not just nice; today's Class 1A West quarterfinal game against Hancock is a must-win.

"It's important for the sophomores and juniors, they've never won one," Myers said. "We won one playoff game a couple of years ago (in 2000), but if they get that feeling, hopefully they won't lose it."

"I think (we have to win)," Vierra said. "To lose that first one, that would be horrible. All that work we've done, it would be for nothing."

Brave thought. One expected in the past, perhaps. But not now at Smithsburg.

Not anymore.

"People around town, the student body, the faculty, even people that don't have kids at the school anymore, they're asking us about baseball," Dick said. "That's a great feeling. No matter what happens, right now we're the foundation. And I'm excited about that."

"We've told the kids, 'Now you've set a standard,'" Fowkes said. "Anything less than 10 wins in the future, and people are going to wonder what happened to us.

"But I'll always refer back to them as the start of the our program. They did all this."

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