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    Leonardtown High baseball claims state title

    By Ted Black,

    18 days ago

    Through much of the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference schedule this spring, the Leonardtown High School baseball team appeared to be treading water and the Raiders stood at 8-8 with the postseason just around the corner. But from there Leonardtown was perfect and the Raiders ended an improbable run to claim the 4A state title by upending Walt Whitman of Montgomery County 2-0 on Friday evening at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf.

    Leonardtown (15-8) had grown accustomed to facing the best pitchers in SMAC and those challenges paid off handsomely, even those with detrimental results, once the playoffs began. Leonardtown embarked on an impressive run in which it defeated Broadneck of Anne Arundel County in the 4A East Region finals then rallied to edge Urbana 3-2 in the 4A state semifinals on May 21 afternoon.

    As is often the case in baseball championship games at every level, the focus again shifted to pitching and this time the Raiders would get a stellar performance from senior left-handed hurler Will Buckler. Notified by second-year coach Austin Guy just one hour before the game that he would be the starter on Friday, Buckler blanked the top seeded Vikings on two hits, two walks and two hit batters and fanned two of the last three batters that he faced to preserve the narrow victory.

    "Honestly, this is the greatest moment in my life," said Buckler, who still remains uncommitted to a college this fall but will be part of the St. Mary's Legion team this summer that is hosting the American Legion Regional Tournament. "Even when it was 2-0 going to the last inning, there's no real breathing room. We're playing the best team in the state, so we could not let up."

    Leonardtown scored an unearned run in the top of the fourth against Walt Whitman starter Jacob Goldman when Buckler drew a one-out walk, then his courtesy runner Troy Jordan stole second and scored one batter later when Troy Smith reached on a throwing error by the Vikings' second baseman to give the Raiders a tepid 1-0 lead.

    "We wanted to come out and be aggressive on the bases and force them to make plays," Guy said. "I thought we came out and stayed aggressive and stayed focused through all seven innings. Of course, that last inning seemed like it took forever."

    Leonardtown stretched the advantage to 2-0 in the top of the sixth against Whitman reliever Wells Twining when the Raiders added an unearned insurance run. With one out, Daniel Knott singled then scored one batter later when the Whitman left fielder misplayed a ball that Buckler hit into shallow left.

    "Even when we went up 2-0, our mindset was we were still playing this game as if we were behind," Leonardtown senior Hunter Lee said. "We knew we could not let up. But watching Will the whole game was amazing. I've known him since we started playing t-ball together when we were like five years old. He's not only a teammate, he's also one of my best friends."

    Staked to a 2-0 lead heading to the bottom of the seventh, Buckler fought through a brief bout of shakiness to seal the verdict. He issued a one-out walk to senior Chand Amerasinghe, fanned the next batter then hit the next one, which brought the winning run to the plate. But Buckler never wavered and he fanned designated hitter Dorian Smith to end the contest and spark a joyous celebration on the field.

    "Even when we were sitting at 8-8 two months into the season, I don't think we ever had any doubts that we could get here," Guy said. "We just had to start putting a few wins together. From that point on, we never lost another game. It's a tribute to the hard work and dedication these guys had and they always believed in themselves and one another."

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