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Baseball - Season 2012
Created: Sunday, 06 March 2016 12:13

The day that changed Maryland AAU Baseball

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Days before the game that would start their dominance of AAU Baseball in the State of Maryland, the Ruth’s Baseball Ideals (RBI) Baseball Club 16-and-under team in 2012 were ready to bust a move. They were done with being overlooked in Maryland youth baseball.

Heading into the Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, finals of the 16U division of the Maryland AAU Fall Wood Bat State Championships against the South River High School fall junior varsity team, frustration had reached a peak. The team of 13-15 year olds were fresh off victory in the semifinal round in the morning of the same day in which they had allowed only one run (unearned) and mercy-ruled their tournament opponent.
All that week before “The Big Game,” the chatter increased among members of the many area high schools’ baseball programs represented on the field at AAU Fall States—Annapolis, Broadneck, Dematha, Northeast, Chesapeake, Gonzaga, Kent Island, Riverdale Baptist, Severna Park, Southern, South River, Northern, Huntingtown, Bowie, Richardson, Archbishop McNamara, Roosevelt, Archbishop Spalding, Colonel Richardson, St. Mary’s, Arundel, Thomas Stone, Ryken, Chopticon, to name a few.


The most smack sprang from the Annapolis suburb of Edgewater, Md.—home of the South River High School Seahawks, whose varsity six months later would beat Catonsville, 6-0, May 24, 2013, at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen to win the MPSSA Class 4A state high school championship, South River's first ever.


Unquestionably, South River baseball was loaded going into that momentous year—and expectations in the fall extended to its strong Seahawks sophomore-heavy Jayvees who entered the AAU fall wood bat league’s title tilt supremely confident after they had rampaged through most of their opposition that autumn.


“They not only were beating people, they were doing it in intimidating style,” Maryland RBI manager Mike Graham said.  “Mercy rulings, shutouts, no hitters—they were the bully on the block that year, and we loved the competition.”


Meanwhile, the RBI club’s 16U entry in 20 games thus far in the RBI High School Eligible JV Fall Wood Bat League had gone 17-3, outscoring opponents 160-65. Two of their losses had been to South River, by scores of 6-4 and 6-5. One of their victories had come against the Seahawks, 6-5.


So, inevitably, the two teams seemed set on a collision course toward that beautiful unseasonably warm and sunny autumn day at Riva Park, where parents, siblings, grandparents, and area high school and some college coaches gathered to watch—a couple hundred people in all.


That game altered the course of Maryland AAU Baseball.


RBI patiently worked their way back from an early 2-run deficit to a surprising 5-2 victory against the Seahawks to win the club’s first ever state baseball championship. Just as significant, the game marked the return of high school-age AAU championship baseball to Maryland, leading to one of the most memorable teams and dominant stretches of success in Maryland AAU sports.


They went on in 2013 to play 68 games in the spring and summer throughout the Mid-Atlantic States (42-26, .617 pct.) and represented AAU’s Maryland and Potomac Valley Districts in the AAU Super Showcase/Underclassmen National Championships in Florida.


From there, the team would never look back, winning a record three consecutive Maryland AAU Fall Wood Bat State Championships (2012, ’13, ’14) and earning a Maryland AAU record-setting number of five consecutive AAU National Championships invitation-only or automatic bids.


It’s a span that transformed the team itself into “Maryland RBI” and one of the Maryland, Washington, DC, and Virginia region’s leaders in year round advanced skills development, turning many of its players into college recruiting commodities.


“Looking back on it, we were already on that trajectory because those guys were all young and playing up in age and they were going to keep getting better and be good the next several years if they stayed together,” Coach Graham said.


“We were already catching up with and beating older teams that we were playing against but that South River win accelerated things. There are always moments when you are building a program that help you take that next step, and that particular game was one of those times.”


Shortstop Brandon Snow’s star-making performance led RBI in a rally against a Seahawks defense that had been in control much of the game. Three late inning runs sealed the victory.
“Our level of confidence started to build throughout that season and in the games leading up to that particular championship,” Coach Graham said. “Our players had a mindset they were going to show what we could do. Our view was let’s show them that we hadn’t even begun to play our best baseball yet.”


The team went on to play 163 games over the next three years, winning over a hundred and playing for the AAU National Championship at Champion’s Stadium, the Atlanta Braves spring training complex at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.


“That group of kids worked extremely hard on and off the field and in the offseason,” Graham said. “No one knew it then, of course, because no one can predict the future, but never, never again could that many under-the-radar achievers from one local area be amassed on a team like that and held together so many years and rise to greatness like that.


“By any measure that team had it going on—today over a half dozen players are playing in college or committed,” Graham said. “Dom Stanbery committed to Anne Arundel Community College, Connor (Graham) signed with Virginia Wesleyan College, Mac McGrath committed to Eastern University, and Brandyn Vogtsberger committed to Salisbury State. Jake Hoyer is playing club at Towson University.


“Brandon Snow plays at Farmingdale State in New York and CJ Cummings plays club at the University of Mary Washington. In the winter that followed, we picked up Josh Matthews who pitches at Hood College. And Anthony DeCesaris and Billy Albaugh—both of them also could have played college baseball too.”


The win against South River became the moment that changed Maryland RBI baseball.


“After that and the winter workouts that followed and once we got everybody back the next summer after the high school season,” Coach Graham said, “we all realized that we had a chance to be a great baseball team and very successful if we wanted to be, but we would have to work for it. The team and players’ personal ceilings in the sport were high.


“But no one could have predicted three consecutive AAU state championships, going to AAU Nationals at the Atlanta Braves’ training complex and Disney/ESPN stadium like we did, and so many of the players making it to college baseball.


“That’s what that one game did for us,” Graham said. “It launched Maryland AAU Baseball—the RBI club and our team, Maryland RBI, and players—to another level. It’s funny sometimes how life works out. It was a special moment.”


Asked about the main takeaway from the experience that followed, Graham said: "We are a team," Graham said. “The players hang out and lift together, play videogames online, and look out for each other. The older ones give the younger ones advice.


“It doesn’t matter how young and inexperienced the players you have are, no matter how many coaches’ philosophies, no matter how many off the field distractions—when it all comes together, you have a chance to achieve something special. That’s what those kids did, something special, and every one of us are better persons and our lives are enriched by the experience. We would all go back and do it all over again in a heartbeat.”


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