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Blazers eliminated in state semis

May 22, 2008|By DAN KAUFFMAN

Click here for more photos of Wednesday's game.

FREDERICK, Md. -- Clear Spring's dreams of a state baseball title vanished into thin air Wednesday night.

Literally.

Harford Tech scored four runs in the fourth inning, helped by a pair of balls hit into the overcast, twilight sky that Blazers fielders never saw, and the Cobras went on to a 6-3 victory in the Maryland Class 1A state semifinals at McCurdy Field.

"We've been a big-inning team all season, and tonight we got beat by one. ... We got in that twilight inning and lost the ball twice," Clear Spring coach Mark Shives said. "I lost four foul balls myself. It's one of those things."

Those lost balls weren't the only reason for the Blazers (18-4) to feel snakebit Wednesday. Whether it was a questionable call, a line drive hit right at a Harford Tech fielder, or simply a maddening inability to get the key hit at the key time, Clear Spring's players were left scratching their heads.

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With the game tied at 2 after three innings, the Cobras (15-7) started the fourth with Kevin Hauer's fly ball to center field that sailed over Aaron Mills' head for a double.

"Aaron is one of the better outfielders in the state, and he never saw it off the bat," Shives said.

After Blazers starter John Kehr struck out Jared West, Mike Wilhelm hit a roller to short that Brandon Glazer charged and threw to first on the run. The throw beat Wilhelm to the bag as Jordan Thurber made his stretch, but the umpire ruled Thurber's foot came off the bag, leaving runners at the corners.

Jason Young walked to load the bases before Ryan Neukam doubled to the left-field gap, scoring Wilhelm and Hauer. Chase Gardner's bloop single to center scored Young to make it 5-2, and Shives sent Kehr to left field and brought Josh Constable in to pitch in relief.

Chris Peacher sent Constable's fourth pitch soaring into the sky, and Glazer -- the closest Blazer to it -- never saw it as it dropped for an RBI single, scoring Neukam to make it 6-2.

Constable fought his way out of the inning without giving up another run, then allowed just a two-out single in the seventh while breezing through the final three innings to give Clear Spring a shot.

"He gave us chances to get swings at it," Shives said.

But try as they might, the Blazers never got the big hit off Neukam, who needed 143 pitches for the complete-game victory.

In the fifth, with runners on first and second and two outs, pinch hitter Joel Rowe hit a screaming liner to third that Gardner bobbled before catching for the third out.

"He hit it on the screws right at the third baseman," Shives said. "We hit it hard at times, but that was a key play."

Neukam was at his best as his pitch count soared. In the sixth, with Glazer on second and one out, Neukam froze Thurber -- one of the Blazers' best hitters -- with an inside fastball. In the seventh, he struck out the side on 15 pitches.

"That kid competed his butt off," Shives said. "We kept saying to work him and wear him down, but he never did. We left 12 guys on base, and that's a tribute to him."

Thurber's RBI double in the first inning gave Clear Spring a short-lived 1-0 lead. After Harford Tech scored twice in the second, the Blazers tied it on three walks and a hit batter in the third -- the one inning Neukam was shaky.

Clear Spring's other run came on singles by Kehr, Glazer and Thurber in the fifth, with Thurber driving in his second run.

"It's been an incredible run," Shives said. "Seeing the kids standing in the dugout cheering their teammates on, and the fans in the stands clapping ... if there was a better place to be tonight, I don't know of it. I'd accept a pay cut to coach at Clear Spring."

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