Four outs. That’s all that stood between Dulaney and a postseason feat no team had achieved during the past six years on Friday in the 4A North region championship game.
But after losing grip of a one-run lead it held for the majority of its region title softball bout with host Sherwood — winners of five-straight state crowns — Lions coach Dave Barwick was left to reflect rather than celebrate.
In a span of 15 minutes, Dulaney went from producing remarkable, game-saving putouts with two runners on base to then enduring a long, agonizing walk back to the parking lot where the bus awaited.
It all came undone for Dulaney with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Sherwood, the No.6-ranked team by the Washington Post, scored twice and that turned out to be all it needed to capture its sixth straight region title, 2-1.
“I told them in the huddle, we’re going to walk out of here with our heads high,” Barwick said without a sliver of angst. “We didn’t do anything wrong today. We didn’t get the hit when we needed to, but we didn’t do anything wrong. We played solid defense. I told them to hold their heads high, and that team was going to win states. We lost 2-1 to them, in the seventh. Don’t hang your heads about that.”
In the bottom of the sixth inning, nursing a 1-0 lead with a runner on first base after a leadoff walk, Dulaney left-fielder Sara Comaromi snagged a leaping line-drive for the first out and in the next at-bat, third baseman Hope Eckhart smothered a rocket down the line for the second out. At that moment, the Lions were four outs away. But Sherwood’s Hannah Bowers and Brittany Mathis strung together back-to-back doubles, with Bowers manufacturing the go-ahead runs on her two-RBI double.
Dulaney then went 1-2-3 in the seventh inning.
“I have no complaints about my team today,” Barwick said. “They played solid. This season was the best season I’ve had in 10 years. Best team I’ve had and best defensive team I’ve ever had. That’s what I can say about this group.”
Dulaney got its lone run of the contest in the top of the third inning when Alleshia Pullen drove in Teagen Bowen from third base on a groundout. Isabelle Hodiste opened the inning with a full-count walk, and was substituted at first base by Bowen, who then got to third when Shannon Musolf reached base on an error. That’s when Pullen produced Dulaney’s only run.
For the first 5 2/3 innings, Sherwood starting pitcher Amanda Berkley blanked Dulaney in the hit column. In the end, the Lions only mustered one hit -- Allison Dasch’s single to right field in the sixth inning -- and of the 21 outs, 12 were induced on the ground thanks to a tricky changeup.
“It was throwing them off balance,” said Berkley, who finished with six strikeouts. “[The changeup] produced a lot of ground ball outs. … It was good. [Dulaney] was good. They were a tough team.”
On the other side, Dulaney starting pitcher Akirra Pullen (6.0 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K) was holding her own, and stranded five Sherwood base-runners while facing no more than four hitters in an inning until the sixth, where the Warriors went ahead on Bowers’ two-RBI double.
“If you hit all your spots in a close game like that, you’re going to miss it once in awhile,” Barwick said. “That’s what happened.”
Sherwood has now won 121 of its last 122 games, and saw a 105-game win-streak end this year in a 9-5 loss to Northwest on March 25. They’ll be looking to reach their sixth straight state title game in the state semifinals against Arundel on Tuesday.
“It means everything to these girls,” Sherwood coach Ashley Barber-Strunk said. “It’s almost like, we can’t be the ones to lose now. I know they want to win it, the excitement is there. It’s more so, ‘We can do this.’ We know we can do this, and our time is not done yet.”
Berkley, a senior who has been apart of the dominant run from the early years, said that Friday’s game — trailing going into the sixth inning — was one of a handful of occurrences in her high school softball career where the team was behind that late.
“[Dulaney] showed up with confidence,” Barber-Strunk said.
As for Dulaney, it ends the season at 17-3 and retains most of its unit from one of the winningest seasons in school history. Bowen, primarily a courtesy runner and platoon outfielder, joins centerfielder Alleshia Pullen and right fielder Mia Dikos as the three who will graduate this spring.
“Getting the whole infield back; pitcher and catcher back, two outfielders back. Lose centerfielder and right fielder. I’m sure we’ll be back here next year,” Barwick said. “That’s going to be hard to replace, the seniors. I’m going to miss those three tremendously.”