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Avalon wins state title

Trophy2GAITHERSBURG – The Black Knights are back on top.

Avalon won its fourth Maryland Private School Class B state championship over Old Line Baseball Conference rival St. Maria Goretti 1-0.

Senior pitcher Niko Sanchez outdueled Goretti starting pitcher Ryan Kinter, pitching a complete game shutout while allowing four hits and notching six strikeouts. Kinter also pitched a complete game, allowed four hits, one run, and struck out five hitters. The pitchers matched each other pitch for pitch as Sanchez threw 69 pitches (49 strikes) and Kinter threw 59 pitches (50 strikes).

With the game still tied at zero in the sixth inning a pair of freshmen and a perfectly executed slap bunt finally gave Avalon the lead.

Freshman outfielder Daniel Searles led off the bottom of the sixth with a base hit. Junior shortstop Billy Lennox then laid down the bunt to move Searles to second, while also reaching first base safely. Despite practicing the play all season long, Avalon coach Patrick Duffy said it was the first time the play was executed properly. Following the bunt, freshman third baseman Pearce Howard came through in the clutch, knocking a base hit to drive in Searles.

Before Searles came to bat, Duffy said he was a little worried.

“(Searles) is a freshman, a kid, just a pup,” Duffy said. “That pitcher was a senior. I was a little nervous but he hit the ball hard his first at-bat so we figured alright, it is a big situation and tough for a freshman but maybe if he hits the ball hard something good can come out of it. And he did, he hit the ball hard to the left side of the infield and he punched it through.”

Sanchez, who was making the last start of his high school career in the game, said he spent the whole day thinking about the game because he had the day off from school since classes are over. When he got to the ballpark, he noticed his changeup was working well, but he could not get a feel for his curveball. In the final inning, with a one-run lead and the championship on the line, he finally found his curveball and shut down the Goretti lineup in order, keeping a promise he made to his teammates during the game.

“I told them if you get one run for me I will win the game for you,” said Sanchez, who received the game ball from Duffy after the game. “They got the one run and I felt obligated to win the game.”

Defense was a key to the win, Sanchez said, because teammates kept making plays when he would allow a hitter to reach base. One of the key defensive plays in the game came after Sanchez hit a Goretti batter with a pitch to put men on first and second with one out. Sanchez forced the next hitter to hit a groundball first baseman Conor Sloan, who tagged first base and then threw the ball to second, where Lennox covered and got the tag down for the double-play.

Winning the championship never gets old, said Duffy, who had a cooler of water dumped on him after the game. Most of all, Duffy said he was happy for the players.

“The kids change every year and you want that group of kids to win it because the kids who came before them, you saw how much they enjoyed winning,” Duffy said. “You want the current group of kids to get that same feeling. It never gets old. It is an amazing feeling. I am just so proud of the kids for everything that they did today.”

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