Winning a state championship is a rare feat. Winning during a global pandemic is exceptional.
It takes a tremendously resilient group to fight through the lulls of quarantines, shutdowns, and uncertainty with the season. To re-focus and capture a regional and state championship speaks volumes about the discipline and dedication of the Catoctin High School Baseball Team.
The Cougars captured the team’s second 1A state title in a dominant performance over Saint Michaels on June 18, 2021, winning the game 10-3 at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, Maryland.
The team’s breakout postseason was sparked by a change of playstyle, with the batters focusing on getting on base with ground shots rather than looking to send the ball into stands each hit.
“The end of the regular season didn’t go as planned,” shortstop Dylan Click said. “We got blown out by Urbana, so we changed the hitting style that wasn’t working in the regular season.”
Following Catoctin’s 5-6 regular season, the group buckled down to put the pieces in place to spur their offense.
The ability to put runners on base was something that the team had struggled to find during the season, posting just 1.35 runs per game. The Cougars’ team-first focus on keeping the ball in play earned them 26 runs in their final three games.
Though Catoctin’s shift to slicing ground balls became the premier strategy, playoff teams were punished for putting pitches in dangerous spots for Cougar batters. “Our offense clicked and we just went on a run through the playoffs,” Click said.
Catcher and outfielder Dylan Nicholson changed the momentum of the game with one big shot, sending the ball soaring out of Regency Furniture Stadium with two runners on base.
The three-run swing set the Cougars up with a lead they would hold on to throughout the rest of the game.
Catoctin’s pitching was sensational throughout the entire season, posting a deep pool of talented kids with a combined earned runs against (ERA) of 1.10.
“Our pitching was great all year, and our defense was solid, we just weren’t hitting,” Click said. “When the playoffs came around, we finally started hitting, and our pitching continued to be great, and that’s why we strung a few wins together to win the whole thing.”
The Cougars’ successes in the playoffs this season are no surprise for the players, who had confidence in each other that they could put the pieces together to make a deep run in the playoffs. “Going into every playoff game, I think we knew we were the better team,” Click said. “It wasn’t any different in the championship game.”
Catoctin sophomore Joey McMannis got a surprise start and capitalized on his opportunity.
The pitcher’s composure at the plate saw the Cougars take charge through the four and two-third innings he pitched, and that boost built the foundation for the team’s stellar showing. He threw just 10 innings before Friday’s state championship game, but his banner performance speaks to the team’s depth behind the mound.
“This is one of the best pitching teams I’ve been a part of,” senior pitcher Ayden Shadle said. “Everyone contributed, everyone was really solid throughout the season, and everyone did their part.”
Shadle was the closing pitcher who brought players and fans to their feet with his final strikeout of the game. “On the last pitch, I was up 0-2 (zero balls, two strikes), so I threw it as hard as I could, and we got the strikeout,” he said. “After that, everyone came out of the dogpile, and every single coach got in. It was a really great feeling.”
With the team buying into head coach Mike Franklin’s slash-hitting system, and the offense flourishing, it was only a matter of time before the Cougars hit their stride, and the team caught fire at just the right time.
“All of us this year, but the seniors especially, were thankful to have the opportunity,” Click said. “At the beginning of the season, we didn’t even know if we were going to have a playoff format, so when we got the news we had the chance to play for a state championship, we were all pretty happy. It’s pretty nice to go down in the history books.”Logan Malachowski jumps with pitcher Ayden Shadle as Catoctin’s baseball players react to their 1A High School Championship game in Waldorf, Maryland.
Cover Photo by Deb Abraham Spalding
Senior catcher Dustin Isonagle hits down third baseline.
Photo by Melissa Kinna
First baseman JJ Zirkle snags a foul ball.
Photo by Melissa Kinna
Ayden Shadle closes out the game as the final pitcher.
Photo by Chuck Baxter