Facing an advantageous 3-ball, 1-strike count in the bottom of the eighth inning of a 3-3 game, Rockville Express third baseman Josh Hampton narrowed his focus at the plate to a pitch that he could drive deep into the hazy, hot and humid night at Montgomery College-Rockville.
Baltimore Redbirds reliever Brennan Huelse obliged with a fastball over the plate that Hampton sent soaring over the left field fence, and the Express went on to a 4-3 victory Wednesday that kept them in first place in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League.
“I knew he was going to come with a fastball and I love it low and inside,” said Hampton, who went 2 for 4 with a double to raise his average on the summer season to .367. “I got good wood on it and it happened to go over the fence. I'm pretty happy about that. I knew it was gone. I knew that I got it good and on a hot night like this, the ball's travelling.”
Hampton's home run plus two runs batted in by shortstop Will Kengor and a solid long relief appearance by recent addition Daniel Gurganus propelled the streaking Express to their eighth consecutive victory and ninth win in the team's last 10 games for a league-best 10-3 record. Rockville leads second-place Youse's Orioles (7-3) by 1 1/2 games heading into Thursday's head-to-head match-up.
That fast start is a far cry from last year's 17-24 team that finished sixth out of nine teams. The players credit a relaxed coaching staff that's guided by first-year manager Rick Price, who captured 11 Montgomery Division crowns — including four straight to end his tenure — and three Maryland State American Legion titles during a lengthy run as the Gaithersburg Post 295 manager.
“We're all loose,” Rockville left fielder Norm Donkin said. “We've got laid-back coaches, a laid-backed team. People who are struggling are still laughing in the clubhouse. All these other teams are all serious and getting yelled at, our coaches are good coaches.
“[Coach Price] is the man. He's awesome. He's so laid back and he knows the game so well and today, he was shagging flyballs in BP. I'm glad I got hooked up with this team.”
Donkin scored Rockville's first two runs following a double in the first inning and a walk in the third. Each time, he was brought home by Kengor on a ground out and a single for a 2-0 advantage. The Redbirds (7-6) erased Rockville's lead with a three-run fourth inning that came on three hits and an error.
The Express tied the score in the seventh on a single to by Ryne Willard to score catcher Josh Reavis. Hampton then led off the eighth with his solo blast.
“They're having a good time and timely hitting,” Price said. “If we have a game where we don't hit, we get timely hits. [Hampton's homer] was pretty timely.”
Rockville Express 4, Baltimore Redbirds 3
Baltimore (7-6) 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 — 3 9 0
Rockville (10-3) 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 1 x — 4 12 1
WP — Daniel Gurganus. LP — Brennan Huelse. 2B: Rockville — Norm Donkin, Josh Hampton. 3B: Rockville — Christian Wolfe. HR: Rockville — Josh Hampton. RBI: Baltimore — John Gatlin, Kyle Gibbs, Austin Knight. Rockville — Will Kengor 2, Ryne Willard, Josh Hampton.