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Rebels' title shot ends before it begins

May 24, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

Today was the day the South Hagerstown baseball team was waiting for.

Unfortunately for the Rebels, today never came.

South was supposed to be facing Kent Island today at 4:30 p.m. for the Maryland Class 2A state baseball title at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Md. That was something the Rebels pointed to -- and legitimately had a shot at winning -- since January, well before the season started.

But on Friday, it all disappeared because of a violation of a National Federation of High Schools rule that limits the number of innings a pitcher can throw in seven calendar days.

"It was going to be a great day," said Mike Tesla, South's athletic director. "We had the whole community behind us. We had a fan bus going up to the game. It was supposed to be a nice day. This just really ruins the whole day."

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Two days, if you count Friday.

The announcement not only took the wind out of the sails of a confident baseball team, it deflated a school which was looking at the championship game as a sort of rallying point.

"This impacts everyone in some degree," said South Hagerstown principal Richard P. Akers. "Some people are more into sports than others, but it mostly affects the kids and the parents more."

South officials spent Friday morning investigating and addressing a claim lodged by a Howard County athletic official that the Rebels had allowed Brandon Knight to pitch more than 14 innings in the seven-day period. After reviewing, Knight had actually been allowed to pitch 15 innings from May 15 through Wednesday's 14-10 state semifinal victory over Marriotts Ridge.

The violation of the rule forced South to forfeit the semifinal victory and the trip to the finals. Marriotts Ridge took the win and today's trip to Aberdeen.

Friday turned into an emotional day that South's players never anticipated, nor welcomed.

"The whole team's reaction? We were kind of disappointed. We were one day away from the state title game and we find out we got disqualified," said Tim Leather, who was scheduled to be today's starting pitcher. "As a team, we think we still should be playing the game. We earned our way there and we won all the ballgames."

After South made all the appeals to the MPSSAA to overturn the ruling, Akers, Tesla and baseball coach Ralph Stottlemyer gathered the team at 11 a.m. in the school cafeteria to break the news.

The word was out, though.

"Before second period, I was in the hallway and I ran into Brandon Knight and he looked kind of down and upset," said South infielder Tyler Presgraves. "I didn't know what was going on, but I knew something was wrong. I asked him, and he just told me he was tired.

"I got back into second period, and then all the baseball players got called down to the cafeteria. I went down there, and the players were all gathered there and Mr. Akers told us everything that was going on and that we violated the pitching rule."

The shock from the situation was understandable. South was carrying an 18-3 record into the final and had weathered every possible condition -- including the weather -- to reach the finals.

"We have so much talent and they play so well together," Akers said. "We thought they had a chance to win it from the start. They didn't let down. They won tight games and games that they had to come from behind. It was all starting to come true.

"When we told them, there were tears and some hung heads, but there was no pointing of fingers. They handled it. They handled it as a team."

Akers said the team was allowed to stay together to sort through the shock.

"We just talked about our overall memories of the season, all the past games and the fun times, the seasons in the past," Leather said.

The players were allowed to call their parents to tell them what happened because many were making plans to head to Aberdeen for the game. An announcement was made over the school's public address system to inform the student body and the teaching staff of the incident.

"We were upset. We worked so hard for that. That's one of the best teams to come through South High," Presgraves said. "We were all crying. That's one inning pitched. With everything that happened, with the weather, and that's what caused it -- that's unbelievable."

The stress of the situation caused Stottlemyer to be taken to the hospital, according to Tesla.

"The worst part was looking at the kids," Tesla said. "There were teary eyes. It was unbelievable. But they all hung together."

However, the main goal was gone.

"Our overall goal was to win the state title, but for everything else we accomplished, it's only a minor disappointment. We still won the conference title and a regional title. It's just one last step we didn't get," Leather said. "It was tough. As soon as I heard it, knowing my last chance to win a state title was gone ..."

South officials wanted to make sure the Rebels remembered what they accomplished instead of what they didn't.

"We wanted them to keep it in perspective and reminded them that the sun will still be coming up tomorrow," Akers said. "We reminded them that they won the league and region titles and no one could take that from them. They did everything they intended to do and made it to the state championship. They might not have the ring, but they had it in their hearts."

But the day the members of the South Hagerstown baseball team looked forward to became the missed opportunity they will never forget.

"I know it will be bugging me for the next week," Presgraves said. "This is something you can't get over in a day."

-- Staff writer Dan Kauffman contributed to this story.

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