Defending champion Cape Henlopen in baseball semifinals: No. 12 Vikings shock No. 4 Senators 3-1

Dover shortstop Dominic Velazquez tags out Cape Henlopen’s Ryan Gibbons as he leaps over second base on a steal attempt in the second inning of Tuesday’s state tournament quarterfinal round game at Dover. The Vikings defeated the host Senators 3-1 to advance to the semifinal round. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Last year was Cape Henlopen High’s year.

With a nucleus of talented seniors, the Vikings captured the school’s first DIAA baseball state title.

But somebody forgot to tell Cape’s current players that this is only supposed to be a rebuilding season.

The 12th-seeded Vikings earned a return trip to the state semifinals after dispatching No. 4 Dover, 3-1, in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.

In a Henlopen Conference rematch in which three of the four runs were scored in the first inning, Cape (16-5) ran its state tourney winning streak to seven games in a row over the last two seasons.

“Coming into this year, we had a lot of guys that were part of the varsity experience but didn’t have a lot of experience,” said Vikings’ coach Ben Evick. “But they’ve been part of the grind. They knew what it takes to win games.

Cape Henlopen left-hander Mason Fluharty pitches against Dover during Tuesday’s state tournament quarterfinal game.

“We lost a lot of close games but we kept telling them from the beginning, just stick to the plan. Keep working hard. We’re going to get better as the year goes. And we’ve gotten better.”

Coupled with Saturday’s 3-2 win over No. 5 Milford, Cape has now avenged two of its regular-season losses. The Vikings will get a chance to avenge a third when they face top-seeded Appoquinimink on Thursday at Frawley Stadium at a time TBA.

The Jaguars downed Cape, 17-4, on April 12.

Henlopen Conference champion Dover (16-4), which beat the Vikings, 4-1, during the regular season, had a chance right until the end.
In the bottom of the seventh, Chris Dabney walked and Nathan Turner (3-for-4) singled to put runners on first and second with nobody out. But reliever Parker Brown got a strikeout and — after a wild pitch — picked a runner off third.

Finally, after a 10-pitch at-bat, Brown struck out Dover’s Michael Carrington to end the contest.

“You hold them to three runs, you should win the ballgame,” said Senators’ coach Dave Gordon. “We got guys on base and then he (Cape starter Mason Fluharty) buckled down every time. They got some big strikeouts and the pick-off at third. We’ve got to be better than that.”

Dover third baseman Samuel Courtney tags out Cape Henlopen’s Luke Smailer.

The Vikings out-hit the Senators 7-6 with both teams stranding eight runners on base.

No hit was bigger than Robert Baxley’s two-out, first-inning double. The ball, smacked into the left-centerfield gap, scored Ryan Gibbons and courtesy runner Matthew Newcomb.

Gibbons and catcher Timothy Vitella opened the game with singles.

“He’s a guy that, when we started out, we knew he might help us,” Evick said about Baxley. “He proved that he should be in the lineup and he’s moved his way up the lineup. He’s just done big things all year long.”

The Senators got one run right back in the bottom of the first. Turner led off with a single and eventually scored on a fielder’s choice.

But Fluharty and then Brown in the seventh shut out Dover the rest of the way. Fluharty allowed five hits with four walks and six strikeouts.

Dover skipper Dave Gordon has a meeting on the mound against Cape.

Dover had baserunners in every inning but one. Fluharty, though, never allowed more than one hit in an inning while giving up just one extra-base hit.

“I didn’t have my best stuff coming into today,” said Fluharty, a senior left-hander. “But when I got in a jam I’d be able to locate my fastball really good. I got ahead.

“It was a quality game. We had really good defense and we could hit the ball early. It helped. Jumping out early is a key factor in baseball I think.”

The game’s only other run came in the sixth when Cape’s Luke Smailer singled and eventually scored on a throwing error on an attempted pickoff.

Dover reliever Hiram Davis allowed only four hits and the one run with one walk and five strikeouts over the last 4.2 innings. Alec Rodriguez had a double in thee sixth.

Grant Evans (2-for-2) was the only Viking with multiple hits.

It was a tough finish for the Senators, who lost to Cape in last year’s state semifinals. It’s the sixth time in the last seven years they’ve reached at least the state quarterfinals.

Dover has gone 30-11 over the past two seasons.

“I’m just proud of these kids,” said Gordon. “They came in as such a young group but they’ve won so many ballgames. They just came up short. There’s only one winner at the end of the year.”

The Vikings, on the other hand, will happily take another shot at Appo. With a seven-game winning streak, Cape feels like it’s probably playing its best baseball of the season.

“It’s exciting,” said Fluharty. “To be back at Frawley. … there’s a different atmosphere there.

“I expected us to be alright (this year). But we’re playing really good baseball right now. I feel like we’re going to go far in this tournament.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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