By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]
For as much success as the Riverdale Baptist high school baseball program has enjoyed over the past 40 years, this year’s championship may have been its most significant. Their 7-4 win over Southern Maryland Christian Academy to win the Maryland Independent School Athletic League Championship was more than about the lineage.
“Those kids don’t even understand what they’ve just accomplished,” head coach Aaron Graves told the AFRO. “This is bigger than winning a championship this is a life moment.”
Riverdale’s rebuild culminated with what amounts to a junior varsity championship and is the first banner that will hang in their rafters of excellence no matter how it is classified. A season removed from being USA Today’s number one team in America, Graves group of high school talent and middle school players brought the first title back to Largo, led by a coach whose last name isn’t Terrill.
“When those kids comeback to visit they will see a banner that honors them,” Graves said. “Nobody can take that away from them.”
Last year UMBC assistant coach Ryan Terrill didn’t return after being told by the school he would have to teach physical education. His father, Terry Terrill, was the Crusaders’ baseball coach for 38 years, won more than 1,000 games and remains their athletic director.
A tweet from last spring, Micah Terrill appeared to refer to him as a “clown” for trying to build a program that reflects the demographics of the County. That’s what Graves did this year. The players who had been with him during summer seasons when they first started competing as little league players were the ones who stepped up in the championship game.
Several parents close to the program told the AFRO the Terrills had built their talent base by recruiting White and Hispanic players. That seemed to add more to the jubilance of winning another championship.
The Crusaders played with a 10 man roster that forced Graves to mix and match his pitching rotation all season. He used a three-man staff and on championship Thursday gave the ball to Devon Hallman. Hallman struggled with his location early and leg cramps late. He scattered seven hits over 6.1 innings but deftly navigated through tough situations all evening.
Southern Maryland capitalized on his two walks in the first inning to grab the lead early. Hallman would have escaped unscathed had it not been for two errors behind him that extended the inning allowing an two unearned runs to score which put them down at the end of the first half inning.
However, Riverdale Baptist flexed back with a two-out rally in the bottom of the first. Marc Harrison, Jr.’s line drive to right centerfield drove in their first two runs and it off to the races from there. The Crusaders stole nine bases and their speed rattled Southern Maryland all night.
Centerfielder Ronald “Took” Burke, Jr. made several game changing platinum plays that proved to be rally killers. He covered three shots to left centerfield that turned potential RBI extra base hits into out, that left Southern Maryland in a helmet tossing mood.
Meanwhile, Dallas Vaughn and Jake Clark did most of the damage offensively, along with Harrison. Vaughn collected two hits and stole three bases while Clark also joined him with a pair of hits adding two steals.
After dismantling the best team in the nation in 2018, Riverdale Baptist could only play this season hoping to keep the tradition of excellence alive. Its is an extremely young team whose future rests on a group of middle school players who still play together with Graves’ Full Count summer league travel squad and may actually get better.