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Wildcats' trip to final began one year ago

May 29, 2004|By DAN KAUFFMAN

The day after Williamsport's excrutiating 1-0 loss to Allegany in last year's Class 1A West baseball quarterfinals, Wildcats coach Rod Steiner made his way to the field to straighten things up and put a close to what was an exciting - but ultimately unfulfilling - season.

Surely, Steiner had a lot on his mind after the loss, in which Nick Adenhart threw a no-hitter with 14 strikeouts but dropped the decision after the Campers scored a run in the second inning on a hit batter, stolen base, error and squeeze bunt. Allegany's Aaron Laffey - now pitching in the Cleveland Indians' organization - shut out Williamsport on two hits, striking out 19.

It was a painful loss for a Wildcats squad which expected a state title - and several members of the team unexpectedly showed Steiner they felt the loss, too.

"I thought I'd show up at the field and just start putting stuff away, getting ready for next season," Steiner said. "All of a sudden, four or five of the players showed up on the field and just started an impromptu practice. It wasn't a planned practice, they just didn't want to be finished with the season, and that really touched me."

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Coaches often say the day after a playoff loss is the first day of the next season. If that's the case, then the spur-of-the-moment gathering was the start of what has become a brilliant 2004 campaign.

With superb pitching and potent bats throughout the lineup, the Wildcats (21-3) have won nine straight games and reached the stage they believed was their destiny last year - today's Class 1A championship against Cambridge-South Dorchester at Joe Cannon Stadium in Harmans, Md. The first pitch is scheduled for noon.

"A lot of teams set that goal and it's a lofty goal, but with this team, they knew it was a goal they could reach," Steiner said.

Williamsport can win with pitching. The Wildcats' three top starters - Adenhart, Andy Taylor and Aerik Taylor - posted a 1.07 earned run average in 84 2/3 innings in the regular season, and while Adenhart (5-1, 0.91) will not pitch due to a torn ligament in his throwing elbow, Andy Taylor (4-0, 0.59) and Aerik Taylor (3-0, 1.25) have more than picked up the slack since the injury, with Adenhart serving as the team's pitching coach.

"Some people sit and worry about his injury, but we're going to make the most of his talents," Steiner said.

Williamsport can win with the bats, too. The Wildcats threw this lineup against Havre de Grace in Tuesday's 14-4 Class 1A semifinal victory: Ben Jordan (.563), Josh Bowers (.368), Adenhart (.426), Andy Taylor (.477), Will Roney (.369), David Warrenfeltz (.393), Aerik Taylor (.298), Leo Schill (.365) and Phil Jordan (.295). That's seven starters with regular-season averages higher than .350.

For those reasons, these Wildcats believe now is the time and that this is their year.

"There's satisfaction with our season so far, but if we don't win Saturday there will be some dissatisfaction," Adenhart said. "Winning a state title has been our goal all season."

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