In the state semifinal round of the playoffs, there’s no such thing as a moral victory. Although, if there were, River Hill’s effort against five-time defending state-champion Northern in the 3A state semifinals Tuesday would certainly qualify.
The Hawks, fresh off capturing the program’s first regional title, got a career-game from sophomore pitcher Kristy Selby and went toe-to-toe with the undefeated Patriots all the way until the bottom of the seventh inning.
But, with the game on the line, Northern (22-0) mustered just enough offense to earn a walk-off, 1-0, victory at the Bachman Softball Complex.
Freshman Kassidy Cross’ single through the right side with the bases loaded, one of just five Patriots’ hits on the evening, plated senior Kayla Grantham for the deciding score in a game that extended the team’s winning streak to a state-best 75 games.
“That’s not the same team I saw when I went and scouted the River Hill and Mt. Hebron game over the weekend … they came out and were totally in a different mode,” Northern coach Robert Earl Radford said in regards to River Hill. “They were tough and really played us pitch for pitch. But as the game went on and it stayed tied, I knew eventually offensively we were going to get it done.
“It just took all the way until that seventh inning.”
For River Hill (17-5), the loss spoiled a masterful effort from Selby and the team’s defense. Northern got runners in scoring position in the second, fourth and sixth innings, but each time the Hawks came through with a play to keep the game tied at 0-0.
“We talked a lot about how we were coming in here with nothing to lose and I thought that’s exactly how the girls played,” said River Hill coach Marni Rosenbaum. “They didn’t get caught up in the streaks or the rankings and just came out and played softball.”
Matching up against Northern pitcher Jess Cummings, who still hasn’t allowed an earned run this spring, Selby knew she was going to have to be nearly perfect — and for six innings she basically was.
She thwarted several rallies with big pitches and also got some sparkling defensive plays behind her, including a diving catch by Courtney Colosimo in the bottom of the sixth to save a run.
“The whole game I was really trying to keep the ball down, allowing my defense to make plays,” Selby said. “When you are playing a team like them that you know isn’t going to allow runs, stopping every run becomes that much more important.
“We all knew we had to be at our best.”
River Hill scrapped offensively, really focusing on making contact and putting the ball in play. Selby and Kat Varga each managed singles, while Colosimo reached after being hit by a pitch, to provide the Hawks with baserunners.
Ultimately, though, Cummings and the Northern defense never allowed a runner to get past second base.
Coming up in the bottom of the seventh with a chance to walk-off, Northern got a huge leadoff double from Carleigh Ruleman to set the table. Then, after a sacrifice bunt and a couple intentional walks to load the bases, Cross came up and delivered the game-winner.
“Before I went up I had all my coaches giving me inspiration … everyone was like ‘you got this.’ Then when I was actually up there, I was thinking oh my god, I’m going to throw up,” Cross said. “But with the count 3-1, I was just looking for my pitch and when I got it, I went after it.”
Cross’ hit brought Northern’s bench spilling onto the field, where the team celebrated a victory that advances them into a championship match-up against Eastern Tech on Saturday at the University of Maryland.
On the other side, River Hill was disappointed in the loss but no members of the team were hanging their heads.
“No one was expecting us to even get here, but we came out and battled one of the toughest teams in the state until the final inning,” Selby said. “We gave it everything we had.”
Northern 1, River Hill 0
123 456 7 R-H-E
RH 000 000 0 0-2-0
N 000 000 1 1-5-0