Fort Cumberland state runner-up after 4-2 defeat to FSK Post 11

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Jul. 27—FREDERICK, Md. — For the second straight year, the Mountain District champion advanced to the American Legion state tournament title game, and for the second straight year, Western Maryland came up just short.

Following in Garrett County's footsteps in 2021, Fort Cumberland Post 13 won three games this weekend to advance to the final day. However, Francis Scott Key Post 11 hurler Ryan DeSanto proved to be too much.

Fort Cumberland, in search of its first state championship since 1976, took too long to figure out DeSanto, as Post 13's comeback attempt came up a little short to fall to FSK, 4-2, at McCurdy Field on Tuesday morning.

Frostburg Post 24 in 1991 remains as the most recent Western Maryland legion squad to win the tournament.

It's Post 11's first state crown since 1998.

"The DeSanto kid came out there, and he was blistering us," Fort Cumberland manager Scott Stevenson said. "He was throwing strikes, striking kids out. It's tough to win games when you strike out that many times.

"As long as we held them close, 4-0, I kept telling them, 'We're still in this game, chip away.' ... Cayden (Bratton) pitched his tail end off. He did his job. We just couldn't get it done offensively."

Fort Cumberland faced an uphill battle entering Tuesday. With a 3-1 mark in state tournament play, Post 13 needed to beat FSK Post 11, the tournament hosts, twice because they were undefeated at 4-0 in the double-elimination format.

More than that, Fort Cumberland also faced the task of figuring out a 6-foot-4 Division 1-bound pitcher in DeSanto, who, along with his twin brother Drew DeSanto, are committed to Saint Joseph's.

For five innings, Fort Cumberland had no luck in that department.

DeSanto retired 15 straight batters to begin the game, and his offense contributed three runs to the cause in the second and another in the fourth for a 4-0 lead.

Yet, Post 13 once again showcased the never-say-die attitude they've displayed during the week.

Bratton, the starting pitcher, opened the top of the sixth with a first-pitch single to right field, erasing any thoughts of a perfect game or a no-hitter with one swing of the bat.

Three batters later, Bradyn Speir took care of the shutout with a sacrifice fly to center field.

"We didn't have a baserunner for five innings, and once we got a baserunner you could tell he couldn't hit the strike zone as well," Bratton said. "He was a little bit rattled. We did our job at the end, but we could've started off like that, too."

Before Speir's sacrifice fly, Fort Cumberland had a small opening for a big sixth inning.

Landon McAlpine drew a walk after Bratton's single to put runners on first and second with no outs, and Tyler Wilhelm laid down a bunt down the left side. The bunt hung up in the air and the FSK third baseman dove for the catch.

The ball was just out of reach, however, McAlpine rightly froze on the elevated bunt to avoid a possible double play had it been caught. FSK alertly corralled the baseball, which bounced perfectly in its fielder's lap, and made a good throw to get the force out at second.

Baseball is a game of inches, and it was a crucial, possibly decisive moment for the ball to bounce Francis Scott Key's way. It was nearly a bases-loaded, no-out jam, and it resulted in just one run.

Still, Fort Cumberland brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the seventh. With two outs and nobody on, Griffin Madden drew a walk, and Alex Kennell threw his hands at a two-strike offering from DeSanto for a single up the middle.

More importantly, DeSanto finally hit his pitch limit at 109 during Kennell's at-bat, and his brother Drew DeSanto came on for the final out.

Bratton recorded his second base hit of the game with an RBI single to cut the Post 13 deficit to 4-2, but DeSanto was able to get McAlpine to fly out to left field to win the championship.

Stevenson drew similarities between Ryan DeSanto and Southern ace Isaac Upole, a West Virginia signee. Both are towering lefties that rely heavily on their exceptional fastballs.

DeSanto also draws comparisons to Clear Spring lefthander Hutson Trobaugh, who is no stranger to Allegany County having pitched gems against both Mountain Ridge and Allegany last high school baseball season.

Yet, DeSanto and Trobaugh, an Old Dominion commit, differ in their pitch sequence. DeSanto almost exclusively gets ahead in counts with his fastball, and Trobaugh likes to pitch backward and use his off-speed stuff early and often.

It was merely a different version of the same story, as DeSanto shined in allowing just two hits and two earned runs with 14 strikeouts and two walks in 6 2/3 innings pitched in a dominating victory over Fort Cumberland.

For his efforts, DeSanto was named both Most Valuable Player and Best Pitcher of the tournament — the first such player to win both awards in the same tourney since 2009.

"I was just trying to use my fastball to get ahead in counts, try to get that 0-1," DeSanto said. "The fastball was working well in and out, and then I was using the curveball when I needed to and the changeup on hitters that I thought were timed up on my fastball."

While Bratton was out-dueled by his dominating counterpart, his performance was nothing to be ashamed of. On just three days rest, Bratton went the distance, allowing four runs on seven hits with two strikeouts and one walk in six innings pitched.

The main damage dealt by FSK occurred in the second frame. Drew DeSanto, Logan Keepers and Kyle Cruz all had RBIs in the inning, and Kade Linton doubled in the third to make it 4-0 Post 11.

After that, Bratton put up three straight zeroes to give his offense a chance.

It wasn't the result Fort Cumberland had hoped for, but Post 13 put on an impressive showing. FSK was just a team of destiny, ending a 24-year state championship drought on its home field.

"It was a great experience for me, for coach (Pat) Brode, for all these players," Stevenson said. "If you'd have asked anybody, where do you think Cumberland would be come Saturday? I think a lot of folks would've said they'd be in their cars on their way home.

"We proved a point here. We wanted to show folks what we're capable of doing. When the game was over, a couple of the umpires came over to say that our kids are quality kids, played hard throughout and they were very polite.

"As a coach, that's all I can ask for. I think we represented Fort Cumberland Post 13 very well down here in this tournament."

Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.