The Fort Meade Miners baseball team couldn’t have been more ready to play the No. 1 seeded Lakeland Christian Vikings last Tuesday night in the Class 3A-7 tournament.
Unfortunately for the Miners, the hot bats they had been swinging for a week leading into districts were nowhere to be found. Unfortunate also for Miners starting pitcher Kendrick Slay, who held the Vikings to a paltry three runs on just five hits over five innings, giving Coach Jon Spradlin everything he had hoped for from his senior hurler.
“Going in, I felt like if Slayer could get us five innings and keep ’em to three runs or less with the way we’ve been swinging the bats, we’re right where we want to be,” said Spradlin. “Unfortunately, tonight the bats went silent. We never gave ourselves a chance to get a couple of runs. But Kendrick did so far and above what I expected, not that I didn’t think him capable, but because we had never asked him to do it. Hindsight being 20/20, I wish I had used him a lot more.”
While the Miners struggled to create any offense, the Vikings tallied a run in the first on a hit batter and sacrifice fly. A solo home run added another in the second inning before a final run in the fifth on an RBI single in the 3-0 win.
It was a night the Miners needed to be perfect, and they almost were … on defense, with no errors except for a botched play at second in the opening frame. But it was offense that the Miners really needed that was so hard to come by. The Miners only got two hits on the night.
One factor that might have affected both the Miner batters and also Slay, a location fastball/breaking ball pitcher, was an irregularity in the chalking of the batter’s box by the Lakeland Christian staff. The normal boundary lines at the front of the box were missing and it also appeared to some vocal fans and the Miner coaches that home plate was out of place as a result.
With the setup, the Viking batters were able to tee off on Slay’s breaking ball before it broke and also adjust their timing on his fastball.
Meanwhile, the Miner batters struggled to get their timing on faster Viking pitching, with the ball arriving much quicker than usual for Fort Meade. Though the uneven playing field was clearly obvious to the Miner faithful, requests to the plate umpire from Spradlin to correct the problem went unheeded. It was that kind of night, where Fort Meade wasn’t going to catch a break.
Though it was a tough loss for the team as a whole, the finality of the night weighed heavier on the Miner seniors. Along with Slay, Mike Kramer and Jacob O’Neal played in their final sporting event as a Miner. Their seasonal effort did not go unnoticed by Spradlin.
“I can honestly say that I wish I had these kids back for another year,” boasted Spradlin of his three seniors. “Instead of coasting in their final year, these guys continued to work harder every day to get better. They gave what seniors are expected to give. You hear the statement, ‘Act like a senior!”. Well, these guys did just that in how they led, growing as young men.”
Though the Miners ended their season on a downer note, Spradlin is very upbeat about the future of Miner baseball, with every position starter, except for O’Neal at catcher, returning for next season.
“The sky’s the limit for this young group,” said Sprad. “They can be as good as they want to be. Are they there yet? No, they’ve got a ways to go. But, I think this group could be the next to go to the Final Four. I think they’re that talented. I really think it could happen - if they’ll work and continue to challenge each other. They’re starting to really incorporate our idea of team.”