Appoquinimink nips Cape Henlopen 4-3 in state baseball semifinals

Cape Henlopen’s Grant Evans dives back to first base after an Appoquinimick pickoff attempt during Friday’s state tournament semifinal at Frawley Stadium in Wilmington. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

WILMINGTON — Cape Henlopen High held a lead for more than 24 hours.

Appoquinimink High only led for two innings, but it was all the Jaguars needed.

Appoquinimink, the top seed, scored twice in the bottom of the fifth for a 4-3 victory over Cape Henlopen in the DIAA baseball state tournament semifinals on Friday night at Frawley Stadium. The Jaguars (21-0) advanced to play in the championship game Sunday night at Frawley Stadium (7 p.m.) against the winner of today’s contest between Salesianum School and Caravel Academy.

Friday’s game was the resumption of Thursday’s contest, which was halted due to lightning and Cape Henlopen, the defending state champions, on top 2-0 thanks to a two-run homer by Mason Fluharty.

The action picked back up with two outs in the top of the first. Appoquinimink tied it in the third before the Vikings went back in front in the fifth, only to have Appoquinimink answer with two more in the bottom half.

Vikings center fielder Ryan Gibbons dives for an Appoquinimick pop fly.

The rally started with a base-hit by Jacob Conover before Trevor Coleman bunted for another single to the right side of the infield. The bunt left no one near third base and Conover tried to go first-to-third.

Cape Henlopen’s shortstop Hunter Rauch ran with him, received the throw and attempted to slap the tag on Conover as he was sliding into the base. The umpire ruled safe and the three Cape Henlopen infielders nearest to the play immediately protested.

After a brief conference among the four umpires, the call stood.

“He was clearly out, without question,” said Cape coach Ben Evick. “I know it doesn’t matter but we have photos of him eight feet from the bag with the tag on him, it’s not even close. I don’t know how the plate umpire doesn’t overrule it because the third base umpire was behind the runner and couldn’t see it.”

Mason Keene then drove home the tying run for the Jaguars on a blooper to left field. The next batter, Alex Jones, singled to right to plate the go-ahead score.

Cape’s Mason Fluharty connects for a hit against Appoquinimick pitcher Mason Keene during the semifinals at Frawley Stadium in Wilmington.

Evick said he understood the third base umpire was screened on the controversial play and was hoping one of the other umpires could have had a better angle.

“It’s a tough call against a team like that who is obviously a great team,” Evick said. “Our guys battled blow for blow with them. We felt like we had a chance there and then something like that happens and we give away a free run to a team like that. If that out gets called there, you don’t know what happens. It could be 3-2 in the seventh and we win that game. You don’t know. I thought this guy (the home plate umpire) was going to give him help, he didn’t so we just live with it. It’s unfortunate for our guys.”

Jones went 2-for-3 and knocked in three runs to lead Appoquinimink.

The two teams played earlier this season with Appoquinimink winning 17-4. But that game was played at Cape Henlopen with strong winds blowing out to dead center, so both teams were expecting a closer game.

The Vikings’ Luke Johnson pitches against Appoquinimick.

“We knew they were a tough team,” Jones said. “Any team in the semis is going to be a tough team. We knew we wouldn’t be able to blow by them like we did last time and it was going to be a dogfight.”

“I told the guys earlier in the week we had to flush whatever we did earlier in the season,” said Appoquinimink coach Mike Torres. “That’s a good team over there. We know they’ve been here, they’re all vets and they all get it. We just had to battle and we did.”

The Vikings, seeded 12th, were the highest seed remaining in the tournament. They finished the year with a 16-6 record.

Luke Johnson provided a RBI double to give Cape Henlopen the lead in the top of the fifth. Johnson also went the distance on the mound and struck out three.

“I thought his approach on the mound was absolutely what we were looking for,” Evick said. “He got a lot of big outs when we needed them. To hold a team like that to a few hits and a couple of runs here and there, hats off to Luke. He’s battled all year for us and been that guy.”

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