During each of their first two playoff games of 2022, the Severna Park baseball team had to fight for a late lead to win. That wasn’t the case Friday. Playing at home, the Falcons dominated from the outset to defeat Laurel 8-0 in the state quarterfinals.
On the mound, Severna Park pitchers Michael Bowles and Nathan Murphy combined for seven scoreless innings, and they got plenty of run support from an offense that hit four home runs, including two by Angel Santiago-Cruz.
In the first inning, Bowles struck out two batters and got another out with a successful pickoff attempt after walking a batter. His offense came through from the jump. Batting second, Santiago-Cruz hit a shot over the fence in left field.
“It was a fastball down the middle,” Santiago-Cruz said. “I was just thinking, keep my hands on top of the ball, hit a line drive. I didn’t want to pop out, especially in the state quarterfinals.”
Luke Herz drove a pitch near the same spot, giving Severna Park back-to-back home runs and a 2-0 lead.
Bowles recorded two more strikeouts in the top of the second inning and the Falcons got a third out by tagging a Laurel runner who tried to steal second base after a walk. In the bottom of the inning, Clay Weaver walked and stole second base. Jimmy Miller doubled, giving him an RBI and pushing the lead to 3-0. A pickoff attempt sailed over the head of a Laurel infielder, allowing the Falcons to score again, 4-0.
The Falcons offense broke out for three more runs in the third inning. Leading off, Santiago-Cruz doubled to the gap in center field and was brought across home plate with an RBI groundout to first by Herz. Seamus Patenaude came up to bat next and launched a home run over the left-field fence to give Severna Park a 6-0 lead.
“Everyone was high energy and we were ready to go,” said Patenaude, who had just returned from a field trip about 30 minutes prior to first pitch. “Playoff time, it’s a fun time. I made good contact and the ball went.”
Brooks Harris helped his team add to the lead. He hit a double down the third-base line and subsequently scored on a passed ball.
With a 7-0 lead, southpaw Nathan Murphy came in to pitch during the fourth inning and he shut down Laurel batters with six strikeouts over the next three innings. He finished the game after throwing 47 pitches.
“Nathan has been working hard,” said Severna Park head coach Eric Milton. “He struggled to begin the year. I’ve been working in the bullpen with him, and he’s been gaining confidence. Today, it showed, so it was great to have him out there.”
His teammates also noticed that effort.
“Nathan Murphy came in and really showed his sophomore grit and got it done,” Patenaude said. “I was really happy with him.”
Santiago-Cruz hit a two-out home run in the sixth inning, giving Severna Park, putting Severna Park ahead 8-0.
“I was just waiting for that fastball,” Santiago-Cruz said. “[The pitcher] threw it in a spot I liked and I swung.”
For Santiago-Cruz, a sophomore, it was a validating moment. He has continued to perform at a high level despite a slow start as a new member of the team this season.
“I came with the mentality of ‘play my game,’” he said, referring to the season overall. “Obviously I’m filling in a huge spot, following Jackson Merrill. Toward the beginning of the season, I played a little tense, but as I got comfortable with my teammates on the field, I loosened up, started playing my game more and more.”
Severna Park will play Tuesday in the state semifinals. They are tentatively scheduled to take the field at 4:00pm at a location to be announced.
Patenaude is expected to pitch for the Falcons, who are one game away from reaching the state championship for the second consecutive year.
“I feel like there is some unspoken pressure, but the boys are playing loose,” he said. “We have fun in the dugout. It’s a fun group of guys to be around and I’m enjoying it.”