navigation-background arrow-down-circle Reply Icon Show More Heart Delete Icon wiki-circle wiki-square wiki arrow-up-circle add-circle add-square add arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up calendar-circle chat-bubble-2 chat-bubble check-circle check close contact-us credit-card drag menu email embed facebook-circle facebook-square facebook faq-circle faq film gear google-circle google-square google history home instagram-circle instagram-square instagram linkedin-circle linkedin-square linkedin load monitor Video Player Play Icon person pinterest-circle pinterest-square pinterest play readlist remove-circle remove-square remove search share sign-out star trailer trash twitter-circle twitter-square twitter youtube-circle youtube-square youtube

You have to have a valid membership to attend this event

You have to have a valid membership to attend this event

For Bel Air Baseball, 2016 Was A Season To Remember

June 15, 2016
Bel Air baseball coach John Swanson has been around baseball a long time.

As a player, he was a standout catcher at Millersville University from 1992-96. After college, he played in the Lancaster-Lebanon Twilight League for almost eight years and then caught in the bullpen for the Wilmington Blue Rocks in the Carolina League.

He began to coach when he finished playing, which he's now done for 20 years. His last 15 years have been as the varsity head coach at Bel Air High School.

So it's quite a statement that Swanson believes the performance his Bobcats displayed during the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletics Association Class 4A state tournament is the most impressive run he has ever been a part of on the baseball diamond.

"Over the six games we played in the tournament, we scored 40 runs, gave up two earned runs, had one error, threw two no-hitters, as well as a three-hitter," Swanson said. "Perform and compete, that was the epitome of it. You can't ask for much more."

It's also hard to ask for much more when your team wins the state championship, which the Bobcats did when they topped Quince Orchard (Montgomery County), 8-1, May 27. It's Bel Air's third state title in baseball, previously winning in 1996 and 2013.

The team's run in the tournament wasn't a surprise, given the Bobcats' difficult regular-season schedule. Being in the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference Chesapeake Division, the Bobcats routinely played powers from both Harford and Cecil County this season, such as Patterson Mill, Fallston and North Harford.

With all the tough teams they were competing against, Bel Air's players took it upon themselves to find a way to get an edge on their opponents. 

"In the league this year, all the teams were real solid," senior pitcher and first baseman Jack Jenkens said. "We knew from the start that we had a special group of guys. What set us apart from other teams is that we stay after practices and do sprints. I don't think most teams do that every day. We outwork everyone else."

In Jenkens, the Bobcats had a certifiable ace to anchor their pitching staff, which finished the season with a 1.78 ERA. The 6-foot-3 lefty led the team in innings pitched (46.2) and strikeouts (47). He accrued an 8-1 record and 1.50 ERA while limiting opponents to a .214 batting average. In the postseason, Jenkens threw a no-hitter against Parkville May 13.

Swanson described the team's rotation as a three-headed monster, with Jenkens being joined by a pair of juniors in Mike Yetter and Zack Radcliffe. Yetter topped the group with a 1.15 ERA and .132 opponents' batting average. Radcliffe posted a 1.81 ERA and recorded 38.2 innings, which was second most on the team. The two also had standout performances in the playoffs -- Yetter threw a three-hitter against Kenwood May 16, while Radcliffe hurled a no-hitter against Catonsville two days later.

"These three guys were the epitome of great pitchers. They were very smart -- knew what to throw and when to throw it," senior right fielder Matt Ferretti said. "That definitely helped us in the playoffs when we needed those one or two pitches to close out games for us."

It was a dream scenario for senior catcher Andrew Cotton, who knew he was going to get a well-pitched game every time he squatted behind the plate in the first inning.

"They don't back down from anything. Jack, for example, I typically don't call off-speed pitches with two outs and the bases loaded, but he'll sometimes shake you off and go to a curveball to strike the guy out," Cotton said. "They weren't afraid to throw any pitch at any time. That's what helped us throughout the entire season."

After an 8-0 win against Bowie in the state semifinal May 24, Bel Air played Quince Orchard for the state championship. The game was played May 27 at the University of Maryland's Shipley Field, which is much closer to Quince Orchard's campus than Bel Air's. While Swanson commended Bel Air's community and was overwhelmed by the support the team had at the game, the proximity ensured the majority of the crowd would be cheering for Quince Orchard.

It made for a rowdy atmosphere that made for tough playing conditions for Bel Air.

"During my at bats, they yelled out my name a bunch and were saying stuff to try to distract me," Radcliffe said. "We did a really good job of putting that stuff aside and just focusing on our goal of winning."

The game was a tense affair in sweltering heat. Through five innings, the Bobcats held a 2-1 advantage, as Jenkens kept Quince Orchard's bats in check. He was relieved in the sixth inning by Yetter, who was able to work his way out of a jam to keep Bel Air in the lead.

That's when Bel Air's bats broke out to score six runs, bringing 10 batters to hit in the bottom half of the frame. Sophomore center fielder Liam Bowers' two-RBI double was the big hit of the inning. It was Bowers' third hit of the night, as he paced Bel Air's offense from the leadoff spot.

The big cushion gave the players time to look around and soak up the atmosphere.

"I was in right field, and Jenkens was standing at first base, and he turned around to give me a fist bump. He said, 'This is it,' and we both smiled," Ferretti said. "I just thought that this is the perfect way to end the high school career. I couldn't have been more proud."

Issue 222: Bel Air Baseball
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Steve Cotton
Yetter, who was closing out the game on the mound, wanted to make sure he appreciated the scene.

"The last pitch of the game was an 0-2 count. I took the ball back from the previous pitch and walked around the mound with a big smile on my face, because I knew I was going to make this last pitch and get the out," Yetter said. "I looked at all my teammates, and it was just a special moment."

Yetter threw the pitch, and the batter hit a weak ground ball to him, which he picked up and fired to first base. Pandemonium ensued when Jenkens caught the ball.

"We immediately dogpiled," Cotton said with a laugh. "That was easily one of the best experiences of my life."

But the state championship isn't the only postseason trophy the Bobcats won. The UCBAC selects a team for each sport that displays the best sportsmanship throughout the season, and the Bobcats were the league's selection for baseball.

To Swanson, that award is as big an accomplishment as the state championship. Knowing his group treated others, as well as how it played on the baseball diamond, was the cherry on top of an incredible season.

"Respect everyone you play, because that's what it's supposed to be about," Swanson said. "Don't get me wrong -- I want that state championship as bad as anyone, but it's the journey and the lessons in between those seven innings that are important. If all you focus on is winning, you miss a lot."

Issue 222: June 2016