TJ baseball pieces together win over Middletown

The fielding alignment of Thomas Johnson’s players on the final pitch of Monday’s baseball game would have been head-scratching on any other day.

The Patriots’ Danny Orr, typically a venerable shortstop, was on the mound, tasked with holding a two-run lead for his team and the bases loaded. He threw a fastball to Middletown’s Brett Lucas, and the first baseman zipped a liner to the right-center field gap.

Running over to make the play: right fielder Marcoskent Trinidad Doherty, making his varsity debut after being called up from junior varsity just days earlier.

He arrived in lockstep with the ball and made a deceptively difficult catch to secure a 3-1 TJ home win that was perhaps the Patriots’ most impressive of the season given their opponent and the players they had to replace due to myriad injuries and illnesses.

“A lot of guys stepped up today,” TJ coach Matt Myers said. “We knew we had to execute and play just good, fundamental baseball, so some of those guys that don’t get a lot of playing time were able to lay a bunt down, put a ball in play, move a guy to third base.”

Trinidad Doherty’s catch was his fourth of the afternoon, easily the most important and impressive of the bunch. He was one of two Patriots making their first start, along with freshman second baseman Jacob Koennel.

He’s been up on varsity all season but hasn’t seen much playing time. But that didn’t stop him from knocking two hits on Monday, including the go-ahead RBI single in the third inning.

“It’s definitely a big step to do. I was a little nervous out there, but over time, you gotta realize, it’s just a game, and do your best. That’s all,” Koennel said.

The third reserve, left fielder Eddie Haugh, singled, scored a run and chased down a deep fly ball for the second out of the seventh inning to prevent a run.

“They came in in the clutch moments, and they got it done,” Orr said.

It’s typical of how TJ has operated for much of its up-and-down season. The Patriots (11-8-1) often receive crucial contributions from their role players, and their stars are now catching fire after a disastrous seven-game winless skid in the first part of the campaign.

This has been an unexpectedly trying season for Orr, a UMBC commit. He spent the first three weeks of the season as one of the worst hitters on his team, an issue he said came about because he was asking himself to do too much.

“Mentally at the start of the season, I wasn’t ready. I needed more time,” Orr said. “I felt like I put too much pressure on myself.”

It fell in tandem with the team’s overall struggles, as Orr is the captain of the ship. But about three weeks ago, Orr had an epiphany and began trusting his teammates more, thereby putting less pressure on himself to be the go-to guy.

In turn, he’s back to playing some of his best baseball.

“Those early mistakes and failures early in the season I think really helped me become a better player because I had to push through,” Orr said. “I didn’t really have to push myself at all [last season].”

It showed Monday, as Orr tied the game with a run-scoring groundout in the third and blasted an insurance solo home run on the first pitch of the fifth inning. He also worked three scoreless innings for the save in his second pitching appearance of the season, scattering two hits.

Nathan Chappell earned the win in relief for TJ, allowing one run and five hits in three innings.

The Knights (14-5) nearly matched the Patriots on the mound, as Keller Routzahn and Wyatt Hopson combined to surrender one earned run and four hits while striking out seven. But the defense behind them made three errors, including a crucial misplayed bunt in the third inning to set up two TJ runs.

“In close games, we’re gonna have to execute a bunt, which we couldn’t do tonight, and we’re gonna have to field a bunt, which we had trouble doing tonight,” Middletown coach Andy Baker said. “When it comes down to close games, we’re gonna have to be able to do the little things.”

Right fielder Joey Nicholson had two hits and drove in the Knights’ lone run on a sacrifice fly in the second inning. Center fielder Ty Lawson also had two hits and scored a run.