Loyola Blakefield and St. Paul's, two of the most surprising teams in the in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs and struggling to stay close to .500, staged a slugfest Thursday afternoon with the Dons' nine-run, fourth-inning haymaker being the difference in their 13-8 victory.
St. Paul's, which eliminated top-seeded Gilman, 11-4, on Wednesday, was also unceremoniously shoved out of the postseason party after Loyola scored its most runs of the season against four Crusader pitchers.
The Dons (16-15) will visit No. 1 Calvert Hall (27-6) on Friday for the right to meet Archbishop Curley for the title Sunday at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen after seniors Sam Rogers and Colin Brown and junior Michael Wright had two-run singles in the pivotal outburst.
"We've been a scrappy team all year," Loyola coach Jim Crowley said. "We've been a two-out team, too. We scored a lot of runs that way today."
Senior Sam Hanke and junior Bruce Zimmerman joined Wright and Brown on the list of two-out run producers for the Dons.
After Loyola took an early 4-1 advantage, the Crusaders (13-13) scored four times in the third to pull back ahead, 5-4, on a two-run double by senior Herbie Trice and a single by freshman Ryan Glendon that chased tow more runners across the plate.
Then the roof fell in on St. Paul's in a nightmarish fourth inning in which the clutch-hitting Dons made the most of their opportunities, scoring nine runs on just five hits. Four walks and a wild pitch were also issued in the inning.
"Loyola didn't exactly hit the ball all over the park," St. Paul's coach Patrick Walsh said, noting that his squad started the season 0-5 before having a tremendous turnaround. "But they had a lot of good at-bats. That nine-run fourth was the story of the game."
Junior Isaiah Rose started for the Crusaders and was relieved by sophomores Alec Fribush and Ben Briante in the fourth. Senior southpaw Lamonte Wade finished up for Walsh's club in the seventh.
Zimmerman picked up his eighth win of the season without a loss after throwing 93 pitches. Senior Michael Cariello was brought in the fifth and was helped out by junior Conor Reynolds, who worked 2.1 scoreless innings for the save.