Easton 2 — Decatur 1
BERLIN — When the Stephen Decatur High baseball team celebrated its senior day Friday, a senior got the job done on the mound.
That senior was Easton’s Jaden Cassell, who pitched a three-hitter with 12 strikeouts to lead the Warriors to a 2-1 victory. Cassell (2-2) shook off a first-inning run, but then faced just four batters over the minimum the rest of the way.
Easton finished the regular season 10-7 overall, improving its chances at the No. 2 seed in the the Class 2A East, Section II playoff bracket. The postseason is scheduled to begin Thursday, May 9.
“I think this helps us a good deal, obviously,” Easton head coach Albert Pritchett said. “We’ve still got to see what happens, though. I think North Caroline plays Parkside on Monday, and that will have some bearing on things.”
Decatur fell to 13-5, and Seahawks head coach Rich Ferro expects a similar seeding to that of the Warriors in the Class 3A East’s Section II playoffs.
“We’re looking at a two- or three-seed right now, I think,” Ferro said. “And the teams in the bracket outside our conference, they play some heavy competition, schools like Arundel, South River, and Severna Park. ... Those are Class 4A schools, so if the 3As in our bracket have records like 10-7, 8-8, that can be deceptive, because they’re playing some really solid opponents.
Friday, the regular-season finale for both squads, a controversy led to the game’s first run.
Ridge Watson led off Decatur’s first with a grounder that bounced off first base for an infield single. Cassell got Brett Berquist to pop out to first baseman Colin Baynard, who after making the catch in foul ground bolted to first to doubled off Watson.
But Cassell walked Hayden Snelsire, and when Easton second baseman Alek Riedel, doing his job to defend second against a possible steal moments later, broke for the bag, Blake Marshall put a ground-ball single through the spot Riedel vacatedr. The single moved Snelsire to third.
Marshall stole second on a delayed-steal play which didn’t come to full fruition. Then came the controversy.
Decatur first base coach Tyler Riley, seeing Marshall had knocked the bag loose at first when he broke on the steal try, entered fair territory to help first baseman Baynard put the bag back in proper position.
Cassell, who had since received the ball and was standing on the rubber, ready to pitch, stepped off in the wrong direction and was called for a balk, though Riley was in the field of play trying to jiggle first into its proper place. The call meant Snelsire was awarded home plate, and Marshall moved to third.
Pritchett called time and approached the umpires for clarification, and was told the ball, not declared dead by the officials, was still live despite the presence of a coach in the field of play. After a conference between the plate and base umpire, the call stood, making the score 1-0.
“They never called ‘time,’” Ferro said, “and then the kid (Cassell) stepped off with the wrong foot. And I kind of get what the Easton coach was saying, that there was a coach on the field in fair territory. But they were kind of oblivious; they (the umpires) were watching the pitcher.
“He sees multiple people working on the bag, and so he steps off,” Ferro added. “It’s understandable. He probably thought it was a dead-ball situation because of that.”
The call “maybe put me off my game at that point, but only a little bit,” Cassell said, “not a lot. I mean, I figured it was just 1-0, and we still had six innings left to go. A lot could happen in that much time, and I figured the guys would get something going on offense.”
Cassell did his part, getting Ashten Snelsire to ground to third and end the rally.
Easton loaded the bases in the second with one out thanks to an error, the first of Baynard’s two hits, and a walk to Ryan O’Connor. But Decatur left-hander Jack Rosenberg struck out the next two hitters to squelch the rally.
Easton tied it in the third, when Riedel singled with one out, moved to second on a wild pitch, and eventually scored on Ashton Echternach’s sacrifice fly to left.
Aside from Gavin Bunting’s leadoff single in the third, and a walk to Alex Gaddis to begin the fifth, Cassell (102 pitches, 67 strikes), fanning five straight at one stretch.
“My two-seamer was working well,” Cassell said. “I got some of the other stuff to work, but I was really locating the two-seam fastball today.”
For Ferro, whose team has struggled offensively this year in particular, “it was good, but it wasn’t overpowering stuff. Of course, it didn’t have to be. We swung through a lot of fastballs. We swung late a couple of times too that hurt. And Cassell knew how to locate stuff.
“We haven’t hit the ball well this year, but we pitch,” Ferro added. “And that’s how we stay in games mostly. ... We’ve lost five games this year, and I think four of them have been by one run.”
Easton got that one run in the top of the fourth. O’Connor led off with a single to right-center field. Nick Christopher sacrificed him to second, and Trent Weems singled, scoring O’Connor to make it 2-1.
Decatur reliever Steve Bice came on and walked Riedel, but retired Cassell on fly ball to center, leaving two on base.
Decatur failed to hit a ball out of the infield in its final 21 at-bats.
Outhit, 5-3, Decatur was 0 for 7 with men in scoring position.
North Caroline (9-7) can force a coin toss with Easton for the No. 2 seed with a win Monday at Parkside. If Parkside (7-10) wins, Easton is No. 2, and North Caroline third, with Parkside and Wicomico neck-and-neck for the fourth seed, and Queen Anne’s locked in at the sixth. ... Decatur has lost three games by a single run, including a 1-0 loss against Colonel Richardson on April 1, 3-2 to Snow Hill on April 11. ... Decatur lost 3-0 Monday at home against Kent Island, and 3-1 at Mardela on May 1 in a game which decided the South Bayside divisional title. ... The last 2-1 baseball game between Easton and Decatur, a road win by the Seahawks, took place on April 23, 2016, and lasted 14 innings.