Blazers turn the corner

Clear Spring captures first region baseball title since 1992

Clear Spring captures first region baseball title since 1992

May 17, 2008|By DAN KAUFFMAN

CLEAR SPRING -- As Clear Spring's baseball team celebrated its biggest victory in 16 years Friday, Blazers coach Mark Shives reflected on the recent past.

"There are parents of seniors here who have seen the bad times," Shives said after Clear Spring earned a trip to the Maryland Class 1A state semifinals with a 10-4 victory over Mountain Ridge in the 1A West final. "When we first joined the MVAL and we were getting crushed, you could hear the chirping that we didn't belong.

"We took a lot of heat for saying we want to get to states, but it was our goal, and we got here. Everything from here is the cherry on top."

Three years ago -- when Clear Spring's five seniors were freshmen -- the Blazers finished 5-14. After 11-8 and 9-8 seasons the next two years, the Blazers have turned the corner.


Clear Spring (18-3) won a share of its first MVAL Antietam title with a 9-1 conference record, and on Friday won its first region title since 1992 -- when Shives and assistant coach Curtis Eby were playing for longtime Blazers coach Jim Hutson.

"There's a lot of emotion going around here, a lot of history," Shives said. "Four of the guys on the coaching staff are alumni here and they're putting their heart and soul out there."

Aaron Mills -- one of the seniors, who has played on the varsity all four years -- gave Clear Spring a 1-0 lead with a home run to right center in the first inning.

"The thing about a win like this, it's good to celebrate, but we know we have to get back to work," Mills said.

Mountain Ridge (11-8) took a 3-1 lead in the second as Mills battled control problems on the mound. With one out, he allowed three walks and two singles in succession -- including Josh Bittner's two-run rip to left -- before striking out the final two hitters to get out of the frame.

"Aaron's a senior but it's his first regional final game," Shives said. "He went to the opposite field with that home run, he got a little pumped up and that affected him on the mound."

After allowing a one-out walk in the third, Shives pulled Mills for Jordan Thurber, and Thurber and Josh Kehr combined for 4 2/3 innings of four-hit relief. The Miners' only run after the second inning came on Tyler Stevens' long home run off Thurber in the sixth inning.

"Thurber did a great job and Josh Kehr cleaned up, which was the plan," Shives said.

Stevens' homer was made moot because the Blazers scored eight runs in the third inning to take a 9-3 lead, helped by three walks and two Mountain Ridge errors.

Almost all of the damage happened with two outs, and the inning would have turned out drastically different had Miners center fielder Marcus McGinnis' dive to try to catch Brett Turner's bloop two-run single been successful instead of coming up inches short.

"If he makes that play, it's a backbreaker for us," Shives said.

Instead, Turner's hit gave Clear Spring a 4-3 lead and it only snowballed from there. An error made it 5-3, Kyle Crist's RBI single made it 6-3 and John Kehr unloaded on a 2-2 fastball for a three-run home run to cap the inning.

"I was nervous as heck. The first two swings were horrible," John Kehr said. "I decided to shorten up and hit it the other way, and I got a perfect pitch to do it."

Thurber's RBI single scored Mills for a 10-3 lead in the fourth, and Shives was able to sit back and enjoy the moment.

"This was no coaching job. I didn't do anything tonight," Shives said. "It's nice to sit on the bucket and watch them take care of business. This is where all the work in the offseason and in practice is coming through. They have buckets of confidence."

Clear Spring will play the 1A South champion in the state semifinals on Tuesday at either 4 p.m. or 7 p.m. at McCurdy Field in Frederick, Md. The Class 1A state final will be played Saturday at 1 p.m. at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Md.

The Blazers won the Class 1A state title in 1980 and reached the state final in 1981.

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