Skipjacks yield crown, but only after fight
Cecil beats defending softball champs in Region XX title game
NORTH EAST The Skipjacks surrendered their title, but still played like champions in the NJCAA Division II Region XX women’s softball tournament.
Third-seeded Cecil College edged top-seeded Chesapeake College, 4-3, in Sunday’s region title game, capping the Seahawks’ 4-0 run through the double-elimination tournament. The defending champion Skipjacks, however, stormed back from a 4-1 deficit to nearly catch Cecil, leaving the tying run on second base in the bottom of the seventh inning in their effort to force the tournament to an "if" game.
"We played two elimination games (Sunday) and we didn’t make an error," said Chesapeake head coach Durrie Hayes. "We played great defense, turned double plays, nailed a runner at the plate with two great throws and a tag, and just never gave up.
"I told them at the start of the day," added Hayes, "if there was ever a team that could win three straight games on Sunday to win the tournament it was them and they almost had a chance to pull it off."
Cecil head coach Ed Durham said he wasn’t surprised at the fight in the Skipjacks, who pulled out a 7-6 win over Hagerstown in their first tournament game despite facing a 6-0, sixth-inning deficit.
"Chesapeake made a great rally against Hagerstown when they looked dead in the water," said Durham. "That’s a team you just can’t count out."
Cecil, however, countered with a balanced team built on the pitching and hitting of tournament Most Outstanding Player Katie Ferguson and a capable batting order. Ferguson threw a five-hitter with seven strikeouts and just one walk Sunday to finish 4-0 in the tournament, proving to be the difference in a balanced region that included four legitimate contenders.
"I said coming into the tournament that all four teams could win it, but I felt good having a Katie Ferguson on the mound," said Durham, whose star pitcher led Maryland JuCo in wins, strikeouts, home runs and RBI this season. "It’s not every year you have a Katie Ferguson on your roster."
The Seahawks’ offense was led by Alexus McManaway, whose 2-for-3 effort included a two-run single during a three-run fourth that erased a 1-0 deficit. Jade Shockley added a fifth-inning homer which gave the Seahawks (29-11) a 4-1 lead and proved to be the winning run.
Chesapeake (26-10) reached the finals as Jordan Wright threw a six-hit complete game to beat CCBC-Catonsville in Sunday morning’s losers’ bracket finals. She struck out two and walked just two to hold the dangerous Cardinals at bay.
"I definitely wanted to make sure I hit my spots," Wright said of her final pitching start as a Skipjack. "I knew if I didn’t they’d be crushing the ball."
Wright got some early runs to work with as the Skipjacks took a 2-0 lead in the home first. Janean Lowenberger blooped a one-out single to right, Tiffeny Ricks doubled to the left-field fence, and both scored on Courtney Aubel’s two-run double to center off Catonsville starter Kara Malvaso.
The Skipjacks made it 3-0 in the fourth as Jill Piasecki walked, went to second on Wright’s infield hit and scored on another single by Lowenberger (2-for-3, run, RBI).
Kate Blackston’s two-run, no-out double pulled Catonsville within 3-2 in the sixth, but Wright and the Skipjacks stranded Blackston at second and the Cardinals went out in order in the seventh to send Chesapeake to the region title game for the second straight year.
Chesapeake, which lost No. 2 pitcher Kelsi Robinson to a leg injury on Saturday, received an inspired pitching performance from sophomore Jill Piasecki in the title game. She allowed just six hits, held the Seahawks off the scoreboard until the fourth, and kept the Skipjacks in the game until the end.
"I wanted to finish the season strong," said Piasecki, who struck out five and walked three.
"Jill pitched a great game," said Hayes.
The Skipjacks kept the title game scoreless by throwing out Jackie Amend at the plate in the second inning. Amend led off the inning with a walk and tried to score from first on a McManaway double that went to the center-field fence.
Melanie Buck in center relayed the ball to shortstop Becca English, who threw a strike to catcher Aubel. Aubel applied the tag to nail Amend, and Myra Clark popped out to strand McManaway.
Chesapeake took a 1-0, third-inning lead as Buck dropped a perfect leadoff bunt in front of the plate, took second on a Piasecki sacrifice and scored when Shockley dropped Lowenberger’s two-out pop to left.
The Skipjacks’ defense started the fourth with two more excellent plays as left fielder Megan Johnson made a running catch on a Boo Walter liner and Buck caught a lined shot off Ferguson’s bat. At that point, however, balls started dropping in for the hard-hitting Seahawks.
Amend started the Seahawks’ rally with a single just under English’s glove and Mandie Thomas dropped a single into left field, with both runners moving up on a wild pitch. McManaway then slid a single just out of Wright’s reach at second, scoring Amend and Thomas for a 2-1 lead.
Clark’s booming double over Buck’s head in center scored McManaway, but Clark was tagged out off the second base bag after McManaway crossed home plate.
Staked to a 4-1 lead after Shockley’s homer, Ferguson got herself in trouble by throwing Buck’s bunt leading off the fifth into right field for a two-base error. Wright slapped a one-out single between first and second, moving Buck to third, and then took second on Lowenberger’s groundout.
Ricks (2-for-4) then deposited a two-out, two-run single into left, scoring both Buck and Wright (2-for-4) to make it a 4-3 game. English walked, but Aubel struck out to end the inning.
The Skipjacks mounted one last rally in the bottom of the seventh. Wright, who blooped a one-out single into the outfield fringe behind short, moved to second on Lowenberger’s groundout. Cecil, however, clinched its region title as Ricks flew out foul to Shockley in left.
Notes: The 26 wins are a new school record for the Skipjacks, breaking the old mark of 23 set by last year’s region championship squad. Chesapeake’s three sophomores Buck, Piasecki and Wright won 49 games during their two-year careers. . . .
Wright, Lowenberger and Ricks were all named to the all-Region XX tournament team. . . .
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