DENTON — For five innings, everyone was chewing their nails as a close battle unfolded between the Dorchester and Talbot Junior League baseball all-stars on Tuesday at Lockerman Park.
Then came the win-bracket champions' seven-run sixth, which helped carry Dorchester to a 9-1 victory and the District 6 title.
Dorchester (3-0) advances to the state tournament, where it is scheduled to play the District 3 champions from Washington D.C. area on July 20 at 1 p.m. at Stethem Park in Waldorf.
Talbot, which eliminated the other two teams in the tournament, Caroline and then Kent County, on Sunday and then Monday night, finished 2-2.
"Knowing we had beat them before, I felt like we had a good chance of doing it again," Dorchester manager Bill Creighton said. "We just had to play like we did the first time.
"We knew we had plenty of pitching," Creighton added. "I had five more arms I could use if I needed to."
Right-hander Jaiden Brooks was the arm Dorchester relied on early against Talbot southpaw Anthony Massoro.
Dorchester got on the board in the top of the first when leadoff hitter Jamarion Wongus drew the first of his team's eight walks. He stole second two pitches later, and with one out, stole third. Matt Corkran then singled into shallow right field, scoring Wongus to make it 1-0.
Devin Rottman's infield single, followed by a double-steal, put two in scoring position with one out. But Massoro ended the threat with back-to-back strikeouts. He finished with five strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings.
Talbot answered in the bottom of the inning. Kyle Miller singled to left with one out, and after Reilly Gilligan and Jack Townsend loaded the bases with two-out base hits, Brooks hit Jonah Rich with a pitch, forcing Miller home to make it 1-1.
Brooks got the next batter to ground into an inning-ending force play, as Dorchester third baseman Talan Middleton snagged the ball and jumped on the bag.
It remained relatively quiet for the next three innings, though each team threatened to break the deadlock. Dorchester put two in scoring position in the second, had two on with two out in the third, and pushed a runner to third with two down in the fourth.
But Massoro got the clutch out each time. Massoro got Brooks to pop out in the second to end that possible rally, watched left fielder Gilligan reel in a fading line drive in the third to take a hit from Middleton and save at least one run, then fanned Brooks to end the fourth.
Brooks also dealt with base runners. Dylan Fink led off Talbot's second with a single to right, but was caught stealing. Brooks then walked Ethan Mobareck and Kyle Miller with two down, but got Ian Branic to foul out to first.
A leadoff walk to Gilligan in the Talbot third was erased by an inning-ending double play. Massoro reached on an error to begin the home fourth, stole second, but was retired short of third. No Talbot runner reached third after the opening inning.
Dorchester took the lead for good in the top of the fifth. Corkran led off with an infield hit, and stole second. Rottman reached on an error at short, that kept Corkran at second. Jordan Harding (single, run, two steals) flew out to center for the first out. Middleton hit a chopper that Talbot shortstop Fink made a lunging stop on and fired to third to get Corkran. Daniel Hesson then stepped to the dish.
"You always want to hit the ball," Hesson said. "The one I hit was a fastball."
Hesson slapped a shot to right field, just over second baseman Miller.
"When I saw that, you know, you've got to try to score," Rottman said. "And Coach (Creighton) waved me home."
Rottman's run made it 2-1, Dorchester, but Massoro induced an inning-ending groundout.
Dorchester then ran away in the sixth.
Brice Bradley singled to right field and moved to second when the ball got past the outfielder. Wongus followed with a sacrifice bunt, and Brooks (two RBIs) singled to plate Bradley. Corkran hit a grounder that was missed at short and in left field, putting Brooks at third and Corkran at second. A wild pitch scored Brooks to make it 4-1.
Massoro, who reached his 95-pitch limit, was relieved by Miller. Rottman walked and stole second. Harding then followed with a single to plate Corkran. Middleton walked. Talbot brought in its second reliever of the inning and Hesson walked.
RBI walks to Jimmy Creighton and Bradley extended the lead to 7-1. The 38-minute half-inning ended when Gilligan retired Corkran on a fly ball to center, leaving the bases loaded and lightening the mood in Dorchester's dugout.
"Oh, it was a whole lot easier on us after that," Hesson said. "You didn't feel all that stress.
"Before that, it was all, 'gotta get a hit, gotta score, gotta do this, gotta do that,'" Rottman said, "But after it, you could just play, relax a little. We knew we had it then."
Bradley, on in relief since the bottom of the fifth, notched four strikeouts in the final two frames. First baseman Hesson caught a pop out for the last out.
"This is great for us," Hesson said. "I'm glad to be going to states."
Senior League Baseball
W. Salisbury 2
CHESAPEAKE CITY — Defending state titleist Caroline, representing District 6 again this year, advanced to the state title game at 5:30 p.m. Thursday with a win Tuesday night over the District 8 champs.
Caroline is now 6-0 so far this postseason, and is one victory away from advancing to regionals, which begin July 20 in Bangor, Maine.
Winning pitcher Jayden Watkins's RBI double in the first made it 1-0; a Kyler Boyd RBI grounder in the top of the second put Caroline up 2-0.
West Salisbury narrowed the gap to 2-1 in the bottom of the second on a squeeze-bunt single, but Caroline pulled away a pair of crooked numbers later.
In the top of the fourth, an error scored Boyd to make it 3-1, and a Chris Curler sacrifice fly a moment later brought home P. J. Gunther.
In the fifth, Mason Pate scored on an infield error, and another error brought home Boyd to make it 6-1.
West Salisbury scored its second run on a sixth-inning passed ball; relievers Kyler Boyd and Kyle Speas combined to throw 3 2/3 innings of relief to keep the game just out of reach for District 8.
Gunther and Boyd each scored two runs in the win; Will Turner added a hit and a run, Caroline winning despite being outhit 4-3.
If Caroline loses Thursday's game, they play again in a second championship in the double-elimination event.