For at least the past year, if not longer, the Northeast softball team had been an obstacle that rival Chesapeake could not overcome.
The Eagles defeated the Cougars in the regular season in 2016 then shut them out in the postseason last year. And for the first five innings of Wednesday's contest, the theme was the same as Northeast held a four-run lead.
But the past is all forgotten now as Chesapeake posted five runs in the bottom of the sixth to erase the deficit and the bad memories with a 6-5 victory.
Winning pitcher Haley Downin launched a bases-loaded double to drive in three runs then scored the game-winning run a batter later to help the Cougars put a year of frustration behind them.
"I was thinking I had to hit something in the gap to get those runners in," said Downin of her thoughts when she came up with the bases loaded trailing by three runs. "I'm in that situation a lot so it really doesn't make me nervous. This was a really big deal because last year they beat us both times we ended up playing them and they knocked us out of the playoffs, so we wanted to come back and get them this time."
That outcome was not how the game played out as Northeast scored three times in the second inning and once in the third and fourth innings to take a 5-1 lead. Eagles' pitcher Jenna Matulonis had retired 10 straight after allowing the Cougars run in the second before walking two in the fifth. Those runners were stranded to end the inning and Northeast maintained the 5-1 lead.
Veronica Hampton and Christina Jordan opened the second inning with singles and moved up on an Alexis Brengle sacrifice bunt. Melanie Kral hit a sacrifice fly to score Hampton, then Tori Collins and Sarah Gordon drew back-to-back walks to load the bases and Kirstin Midkiff reached on a two-base error, scoring Collins.
Chesapeake got a run back in their half of the second when Clara Fisher-Cook singled with one out, Kexin Wang doubled and Downin grounded out to second to score Fisher-Cook.
The Eagles got that run back in the third when Matulonis and Hampton led off with singles, Jordan sacrificed them up a base and Brengle lifted a sacrifice fly to score courtesy runner Mackenzie Prince.
Another run crossed for Northeast in the fourth after Gordon beat out an infield hit with one out, stole second and came home on Midkiff's RBI single.
The decisive inning opened for the Cougars with a double by Ashley Smeltz. Kielee Warner reached on an infield error to score Smeltz. Fisher-Cook singled again and Wang followed with a walk, loading the bases for Downin's heroics. Downin went to third when the relay throw from the outfield was mishandled and scored on a ground out to short by Emily DeAngelis.
"We had a heart-to-heart talk in between saying that we didn't come here to look like this. I stressed to them that they needed to play for every inning and you have to believe that you can come back," Chesapeake coach Don Ellenberger said. "The team responded. We haven't always done that during the year. Today, during that inning, everybody on the bench was into it. Then we get the key hit that changed the game around. Bottom line is the kids responded and I couldn't be more proud of them."
Ellenberger's pride was equaled by Northeast coach Joe Hart's disappointment.
"We gave this game away. It's as simple as that. You don't do the things that I preach all year making routine plays," Hart said. "Make a routine play at first base, we have two outs. Then you just keep working the batters. You have to stay ahead in the count with pitching and we struggled with that today. Then we called the infield up and got the play we wanted, we had her at home, but we went to first base. Part of that is because we don't control our emotions. We played five great innings and then the sixth inning not so great. Jenna didn't get what she deserved."
If history repeats itself, Northeast and Chesapeake could square off again in the Class 3A East Region Section II playoffs.
WP: Downin; LP: Matulonis. 2B: CH - Wang, Smeltz, Downin. RBI: NE - Kral, Brengle, Midkiff; CH - Downin 4, DeAngelis.