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Skipjacks look to extend spring sports seasons
Softball to compete in regional Final Four; baseball seeks its own Final Four slot

Chesapeake College’s women’s softball team will be competing in the double-elimination Region XX Final Four Saturday while the Skipjacks’ baseball team spends its day trying to earn that same opportunity.

In softball at Frederick Community College, the third-seeded Skipjacks (20-13) play second-seeded CCBC-Dundalk (26-5) in a 10 a.m. winners’ bracket semifinal. Top-seeded CCBC-Catonsville (33-6) takes on fourth-seeded Cecil College (22-19) at noon in the other winners’ semifinal. The two winners play Saturday afternoon for a spot in Sunday’s title game while the losers play a Saturday afternoon elimination game.

In baseball, the fourth-seeded Skipjacks (32-13) host fifth-seeded Garrett College (25-21) Saturday at noon in a one-game playoff for the final slot in baseball’s Region XX Final Four. Chesapeake tied the school record for regular-season wins and finished 20-8 in the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference, second only to champion Anne Arundel Community College’s 23-7 mark.

Chesapeake’s softball team had to overcome both a 2-0 deficit and a frightening injury to starting pitcher Jill Piasecki to notch Wednesday’s 4-3 playoff victory over the College of Southern Maryland and advance to Saturday’s action. Piasecki was struck in the face with a line drive that dislodged three teeth and sent her to the hospital.

"It was pretty emotional," said Chesapeake head coach Durrie Hayes said of the incident, which cost the Skipjacks not only their most effective pitcher but also their number five hitter.

"Our players really stepped up in a very tough situation," added Hayes, who singled out Jordan Wright for special praise.

"We were all still out in the circle with Jill, and Jordan had already started warming up behind the dugout," said Hayes after Wright replaced Piasecki and allowed just two runs on four hits in 6 2/3 relief innings to earn the win. "That was pretty gutsy going out to the pitching circle after seeing what happened to Jill."

Chesapeake split a regular-season doubleheader with Dundalk, while Catonsville and Cecil also split their doubleheader. Hayes believes the tournament is wide open and that the Skipjacks – who have won 17 of their last 22 games – have a realistic chance to emerge with the title.

"Are we the favorites? Probably not. Can we win it? Absolutely," said Hayes.

The Chesapeake-Dundalk game is likely to be a low-scoring affair. Wright (7-3 record, 2.30 earned-run average) will likely face one of the Lions’ two aces – Megan Henne, who began the week leading the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference in both wins (15) and ERA (0.75), or Kara Malvaso (9-2, 1.48 ERA), who has stats any No. 1 pitcher would be proud to display.

However, the Skipjacks’ mix of power and speed can produce challenges for any pitcher.

Erica Kinney started the week tied for the state lead in home runs, seventh in batting average, and eighth in RBI while Anna Morris was sixth in RBI. Wright – who started the week second in the state in hitting – and Amber Johnson were first and eighth, respectively, in steals playing for a coach who will take risks to produce runs.

There are also a host of other Skipjacks who have shown the ability to step up, with the CSM game providing several examples. Julia Carr had two hits Wednesday, driving in the third run and then scoring the game-winner, while Antoinette Hughes delivered a clutch, two-run single during Chesapeake’s three-run third against Southern Maryland ace Christina Pasquini.

"If we go up there and play like we are capable of playing, we’ve got enough talent to win it," said Hayes. "We’ve got a lot of people who can come up with clutch hits, and we’ve been playing very good defense."

Meanwhile, the fourth-seeded baseball team will host fifth-seeded Garrett College (25-21) Saturday at noon with a berth in next weekend’s NJCAA Division I Region XX Final Four on the line. The Skipjacks are hosting the Final Four, which gives them extra incentive for earning the last available slot in the double-elimination event.

"We’ve waited a long time to host it," said Frank Szymanski, who serves as both Chesapeake’s athletic director and head baseball coach. "Obviously we want to be playing in it."

Chesapeake and Garrett split a doubleheader just last weekend. Laker ace Brandon Piper threw a four-hit shutout as Garrett won the opener, 7-0, but the Skipjacks rallied from a 6-0 deficit for a wild, 12-9 win as they put up 14 hits in the nightcap.

"I guess you could say we’re familiar with each other, having played so recently," said Szymanski, who expects the Lakers to throw Piper again. "He changed speeds and had good control. We’re going to have to be patient and make him work."

Szymanski hopes for a repeat of last year’s Final Four play-in, where the host Skipjacks used a 6-2 win over Garrett to reach the Division I Final Four for the first time.

"We have the advantage of playing at home, which is a big benefit," said Szymanski, whose team has averaged almost 11 runs per game over the last six contests while going 5-1.

"We’ve gotten back to where we were in the beginning of the year where we’re making solid contact, putting the ball in play, and having fun," said Szymanski of a team built more around balance than individual brilliance.

Four regulars – J.J. Corriveau (.367, 44 runs, 22 RBI), Mike Liddell (.336, 32 runs, 27 RBI), Jesse Savage (.333, 30 runs, 18 RBI), and Michael Turner (.317, 25 runs, 37 RBI) – are hitting .317 or better with at least 100 at bats. And that doesn’t include Mathieu Vallieres (.295, 32 runs, 26 RBI) or Derek Richards (.329, 18 runs, 21 RBI in just 79 at bats), who both have a knack for getting hits at critical times.

Meanwhile, ten different pitchers have logged victories, led by five-game winners Devin Gardner (5-1, 2.43 ERA) and closer Ryan Staton (5-0, 2.48 ERA, eight saves).

"It’s been a team effort. A lot of people have contributed," said Szymanski. "They’ve accepted the responsibility of being prepared and doing the job."

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