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Catoctin getting used to winning in May

May 28, 2002|BY DAN SPEARS

dans@herald-mail.com

THURMONT, Md. - How serious is baseball fever at Catoctin High School? Even girls in strapless dresses can't pull the Cougars' minds off the diamond.

"I don't really care about the prom right now," third baseman Geoff Hillis said of Friday night's school dance.

"This has been the only thing on my mind," senior captain T.J. Eiker said.

You'll have to forgive the Cougars for the visions of drag bunts dancing in their heads; baseball and Memorial Day weekend usually don't mix in northern Frederick County.

But at noon today, Catoctin aims for its first state championship, playing Monocacy Valley Athletic League rival Boonsboro for the Maryland Class 1A title.

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"We feel like we've finally arrived," coach Mike Franklin said. "This season feels like a journey."

It started innocently in March, as Franklin tried a game that involved 45 circles on a blackboard and his players' ability to guess which circle he was thinking about.

He should have known they didn't have a prayer. After all, games of chance were never the strong suit of his hard-luck team.

"I'd pick a guy and have him guess, and then another, and then another," Franklin said. "Then I asked them, 'What are the chances of picking the exact circle I'm thinking about?'

"I said, 'It's 1-in-45. That's the same chances you have of winning the state tournament.' Only one team ends the season with five straight wins. That's what we've focused on."

The focus could have been lost, probably should have been, too. The team's No. 1 pitcher, Chad Wolfe, threw two innings all season. Several down-to-the-wire losses fried the Cougars' confidence. A thrilling comeback win against Boonsboro had to be forfeited.

The Cougars became the poster children for frustration, not state champion wannabes. Until the playoffs started.

"But that's the beauty of this system," Franklin said. "You don't have to push the panic button early."

A rout of Oakland Mills. A last at-bat win over regional nemesis Brunswick. The school's first South region title with a win over Poolesville - thanks to Zac Ausherman getting plunked with the bases loaded in the seventh inning of a tied game. An extra-inning win over Rising Sun and its Division I-bound pitcher.

"Things have been a little crazy," Eiker said.

They'd be downright wild with a win today over the Warriors. Their two regular-season meetings were high-tension affairs: one-run wins for the home team. Why expect anything different today?

"Defense will decide it," second baseman Danny Novak said. "Both of us are good hitting teams."

"We've just got to score one more run than them," Eiker said.

In the past, saying that might not have meant much. For a Cougars program finally taking that baseball feeling into the end of May, it means so much more.

"Every game we've accomplished something and we've enjoyed every minute of it, but we still took it one game at a time. Now, we're down to one game," Franklin said, then grinned with a faraway look in his eye.

"We've been blessed. We really have."

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