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Leopards earn spot in West final

May 18, 2007|by DAN KAUFFMAN

OAKLAND, Md. - One of Smithsburg baseball coach Bill Fowkes' favorite sayings is, "It's not how you start, it's how you finish."

The Leopards started the season 2-8, with losses in each of their first six MVAL Antietam games. But they're hot when it matters - right in the middle of the Maryland Class 1A West playoffs.

Even Thursday's 140-mile trip to face No. 2-seed Southern Garrett failed to cool off Smithsburg, which unleashed a 17-hit attack on the Rams and rode the offense and pitcher Kevin Tyler to a stunningly easy 11-1 victory in the 1A West semifinals.

Smithsburg (11-12) has won four in a row - the last three in the playoffs - and five of six. The Leopards are 9-4 in their last 13 games.

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"This group has been a great group all year," Fowkes said. "They never got down on themselves, they worked hard and stayed the course, and I hope it carries us to a state championship."

The Leopards jumped on Southern (14-5) from the start, scoring three runs on four hits in the first inning - the biggest hit being Josh Bodine's two-run homer down the right-field line with two outs.

"That's a clutch hit by Josh to put us up early," Fowkes said.

Three straight singles by 7-8-9 hitters Travis Hays, Bobby Smith and Steve Hines led to two runs in the fourth inning for a 5-0 lead. Singles by Bodine and Hays made it 6-0 in the fifth. Tyler singled and later scored on Josh Conway's sacrifice fly in the sixth for a 7-0 lead.

Smithsburg's four-run seventh - highlighted by Conway's three-run double - put the icing on the cake.

"We talked about it before we got off the bus, that if we got three runs in an inning, we couldn't be happy with that, that we needed to score two more in the next inning," Fowkes said. "We wanted to put pressure on them every inning."

Conway finished with two doubles and five RBI for the Leopards. Tyler and Hays had three hits each, while Bodine, Smith and Hines each had two.

"It started about two weeks ago. Baseball is that kind of sport, where once you get in a groove and get confidence, it can carry you a long way," Fowkes said. "We're getting production from everyone. I just hope we keep hitting. ... We were getting good defense and pitching, and now we're hitting the ball."

Tyler went the distance, allowing five hits, two walks and a sixth-inning run when Shane Weaver led off with a double and came around to score on a single and a fielder's choice.

Tyler did not strike out a single hitter - there was only one strikeout in the game - but was around the plate all game and let his fielders take care of the rest. He needed just 88 pitches.

"We knew they were aggressive hitters who liked fastballs," Fowkes said. "We told (Kevin) if he moved the ball around and changed speeds, he could be successful, and he did."

The Leopards' reward for Thursday's victory: A 120-mile trip to face No. 1-seed Northern Garrett (20-1) at 4:30 p.m. in today's regional final.

"I like our chances," Fowkes said. "I think it's been 17 years since we won a regional title. We'll take our chance."

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