CHESAPEAKE CITY — A big start is good. A strong finish can be better.
Two runs in the top of the seventh broke a 6-6 tie Sunday afternoon as the Caroline Senior League baseball all-stars edged out Rising Sun, 8-6, in state playoff action.
District 6 champion Caroline (5-0), the defending Maryland champ, advances to the win-bracket final Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., needing two more wins in a row to move on to regionals.
Rising Sun (4-1), this year’s District 5 winner, dropped into the elimination bracket and must win its next five games in a row, including a doubleheader on Thursday night, to take the title.
The Caroline squad almost blew the doors off things in the top of the first inning, batting 11 men and scoring six runs against the tournament hosts.
Kyler Boyd (2 for 4) got things going with a leadoff walk. Tanner Young reached on an error, and P.J. Gunther followed with a double to score them both. One out later, Chris Curler doubled to bring Gunther home.
Jaden Rowan walked, and an error on a ground ball by Adam Boyles scored Gunther. Will Turner’s RBI walk made it 4-0, and a Chad Willoughby fielder’s choice grounder brought home Rowan. Boyd capped the rally with an RBI single.
Curler then pitched four solid innings, but not without event.
In the bottom of the first, Rising Sun loaded the bases with three straight singles, but Curler squelched it by inducing a 1-2-3 ground-ball double play, and then popped the next hitter out to right, stranding two runners in scoring position.
It was the closest Rising Sun would come to scoring in the first four innings, but in the fifth, things changed.
As Curler reached a rest plateau — 66 or more pitches mean four days of rest, implying he’d get the hook at 65, so he’d be available for Thursday’s final if Caroline made it that far — he was relieved by Boyd, and Rising Sun rallied.
Curler hit leadoff hitter Lane Wiesmiller in the home half of the fifth before being replaced; Matthew Trout, the first to face Boyd, walked, and Yogi England’s single a moment later scored Wiesmiller and put Trout at third.
England swiped second and with one out Jackson Sowers doubled to center field, scoring both runners and closing the deficit to 6-3. With two outs, Willie Jackson’s double scored Sowers, making it a two-run game.
Owen Nagel then took the hill for Caroline and got the next hitter, Ethan Pierce, to sky out to right, ending the inning.
Rising Sun kept coming in the sixth, though.
An error, a single, a sacrifice fly, and a run-scoring groundout knotted things up at 6-6 in the next-to-last inning. But Caroline had the last rally as well as the first.
Nagel, leading off the top of the seventh, was hit by a pitch from reliever Jackson. Jordan Acree took over at first, as Nagel’s courtesy runner.
Boyles singled to center field, and Will Turner followed with a base hit to right field, loading the bases with no outs. An error by Sowers at first scored Acree, making it 7-6 Caroline.
Jackson struck out Boyd swinging, but then Tanner Young walked, bringing home Boyles. The next two Caroline hitters grounded into outs, ending the rally, but the damage was done.
Nagel struck out one hitter, got the next one out by air to right field, and after an error put a runner on first, Boyles, at catcher, gunned him down while trying to nab second, for the game’s final out.
“We hit the heck out of the ball first inning but we didn’t do much after that,” Warren White, one of three who share head-coaching duties for the defending state champs, said moments after the win. “They’ve (Rising Sun) got a good team, no doubt about that ... but we pulled it out. A win’s a win. We’ll take it.
“Curler pitched well to start it, and Owen did a good job to end it for us,” White added. “Kyler had a rough moment on the mound, but he hit the ball really well, and he got on base three times out of five trips to bat. That’s what you want out of a leadoff hitter. ... The whole team hit the ball well. They’ve been doing a lot of that.”
Turner, Curler, and Boyd (who’s 5 for 8 with a walk, for an on-base percentage of .667, in the leadoff spot so far at states) each had two hits for Caroline, while Boyles scored twice. Boyles has thrown out a base stealer at second in each state tournament game so far and picked a runner off third in Saturday’s debut, a 14-2 drubbing of District 7 champ St. Mary’s.