Scrappy ’Jacks fall in region finals
LaBille no-no highlights run through losers’ bracket
CATONSVILLE The Skipjacks exorcized some playoff demons, set a team record for victories and proved conclusively they could compete with CCBC-Catonsville’s nationally ranked tournament favorites.
All in all, that’s not a bad day’s work.
Top-seeded CCBC-Catonsville, which run-ruled Chesapeake College (28-14) in both ends of a regular-season doubleheader, rallied past the second-seeded Skipjacks, 4-3, Sunday afternoon in the NJCAA Division II Region XX title game. Chesapeake reached the finals with a pair of run-rule romps Sunday morning in the losers’ bracket, including an 8-0 victory against rival Hagerstown Community College in which pitcher Amber LaBille threw a five-inning no-hitter.
"That’s what you play for an opportunity to win a championship," said Chesapeake head coach Durrie Hayes. "I think this is big for our freshmen to see that you can come through the losers’ bracket and get to the finals. Obviously, your goal is to win it, but it’s not too shabby being the runner-up in the region."
CCBC-Catonsville (44-11) won the double-elimination tournament without a loss, but the Cardinals had to rally for the title-game triumph. They added the region title to their Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference championship.
"They’ve got some serious talent over there," said Hayes, adding that the six-hitter LaBille threw in the final was "every bit as good as the no-hitter she threw against Hagerstown."
"Those girls hit, but Amber shut them down," said Hayes. "To me, that’s as good a game as she’s ever thrown."
LaBille, backed by Cheyenne Riley’s third-inning RBI single, had a 1-0 lead until Amanda Harrison launched a two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth to put the Cardinals ahead to stay. Cassandra Rogers and Samantha Fisher (2-for-3) added RBI hits in a two-run fifth as the Cardinals stretched their lead to 4-1, but Chesapeake got those runs back with a two-run sixth inning that ended with the tying and go-ahead runs on base.
Rogers, who threw a complete-game five-hitter to earn the win, retired the side in order in the seventh to secure the Cardinals’ regional crown.
For the Skipjacks, the rout of Hagerstown probably overshadowed their impressive title-game performance. Hagerstown eliminated the Skipjacks from last year’s regional with a 10-inning win and knocked Chesapeake into the losers’ bracket with a 7-4, nine-inning decision Saturday afternoon.
"That’s such a sore spot for us," Chesapeake third baseman Sarah Spicher said of last year’s tournament loss to Hagerstown. "We really wanted to come back and show them that (last year’s loss) shouldn’t have happened."
Spicher did her part to pay back the Hawks, going 2-for-3 while driving in three runs. LaBille struck out three, retired the final 12 batters, and was supported by a stellar defensive effort that made just one inconsequential error.
"Knowing my defense is behind me gives me a lot of confidence," said LaBille.
Hayes admitted that the Skipjacks treated the Hagerstown contest like a championship game.
"It was a step down for us," Hayes said of last year’s tournament loss to Hagerstown, which kept the Skipjacks from their third straight title game. "We were pretty focused about beating Hagerstown. To slaughter-rule them . . . it was sweet."
Chesapeake, which started Sunday with a 5-0 lead against the College of Southern Maryland in a game that had been suspended due to rain, kept its foot on the pedal in finishing off a 15-2 win over the Hawks.
Spicher, who was red-hot throughout the regional tournament, went 4-for-4 with four runs and two RBI. LaBille (RBI), Darian McCoy (four RBI, three runs) and Jen Carr (three RBI) each added three hits.
LaBille and Riley combined on a five-hitter, with Riley pitching the final three frames so that LaBille could be fresh for the Hagerstown contest.
"Cheyenne played great against Southern Maryland and it allowed us to save Amber," said Hayes. "Then our ability to slaughter-rule Hagerstown allowed us to pitch Amber in back-to-back games."
Spicher and Carr (2-for-3, two runs, RBI) were the only Skipjacks with multi-hit games against Hagerstown, but seven of the nine starters had hits and every starter scored or drove in a run. Defensively, Chesapeake committed just one error compared to six by the Hawks.
Chesapeake, a heavy underdog in the final, took a 1-0 lead in the third as Amanda Murphy (run, RBI) lined a double over the middle, moved to third on Michelle Lawrenson’s sacrifice bunt, and scored on Riley’s hit in the hole. While the Cardinals scored the next four runs, Chesapeake got back in the game with its big sixth inning.
LaBille walked and McCoy (2-for-3, run) singled off the third-base bag to start the sixth-inning rally. After Lavin Kulina’s grounder forced LaBille at third, Carr walked to load the bases.
Murphy followed with an infield grounder, but Carr beat the throw to second as McCoy scored. Kulina then scored on a Lawrenson fielder’s choice to get the Skipjacks within 4-3 with runners on first and second. Rogers, however, induced Danni Hintermeister into an inning-ending groundout.
While the Skipjacks weren’t able to force the tournament to a decisive "if" game on Monday as they had hoped, Hayes said he "couldn’t be prouder of the girls."
"They did exactly what you want your team to do they worked real hard, they played hard, and they got better every day," said Hayes. "The last weekend, when it really mattered, they peaked.
"Everybody contributed that’s a cliché, but it’s really true," said Hayes. "And everyone played well defensively, which was a real key for us.
"We’ve been in the Final Four four straight years, played in three finals, won one title and lost a pair of 4-3 championship games," said Hayes, who expects to contend again next year.
"We’ve got some serious freshmen coming back," observed Hayes, "and some serious recruits coming in."
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