Players from Manchester Valley were greeted by a surprise visitor before Saturday's Class 1A state softball final.
O.J. Brigance, the Ravens' director of player development, stopped by as a favor to coach Mike Hernandez. He spoke of his battle with ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig's disease — and left the Carroll County team ready for battle.
Starting pitcher Madison Grimm took care of the rest.
Grimm pitched a complete game two-hitter, striking out 12, and drove in a pair of runs in a 9-0 win over Sparrows Point at the University of Maryland.
It marked the first-ever title for Manchester Valley (16-6), and gave a Carroll County team its second state champion in three years, following Liberty's win in 2012.
"Everything just went right," said Hernandez, a respiratory therapist who has helped treat Brigance. "I asked O.J. if he could please come out and talk to my girls, give them some motivation. Tell them a little bit about life's lessons. I thought it would work for the positive, and it really did. It just started the day off perfectly."
The Mavericks got to Pointers pitcher Brooke Peterson for three runs on four hits in the first inning, including an RBI double off the wall in center by Grimm.
Staked with a lead, Grimm was nearly unhittable, using her powerful riseball to retire 14 straight at one point.
"I mainly stuck with riseballs because it gets out of the zone and it's not a pitch that's usually hittable," Grimm said. "My catcher was just working really well with me calling pitches."
Said Hernandez: "Madison was lights out today. You could tell from the first inning when she came out, boom, boom, boom. I knew Sparrows Point had not seen anybody like my pitcher. Don't get me wrong, they're a great team, but I had a top-notch pitcher going today."
The result was a major wake-up call for Sparrows Point (17-3), which had scored 69 runs in its four previous playoff games.
"The girls, coming into this game, weren't really ready for what we saw on the mound," Pointers coach Duke Vickery said. "We had games prior to this with a lot of slow pitching, so it was difficult for them to get timed up. Then it was too late by the time they got used to her."
Shortstop Jessie Swistock, center fielder Storm Smith and catcher Kayla Geho each had three hits in the win, with Geho also driving in four runs.
For Grimm, the day was extra special. The pitcher's parents, Tom and Trina, graduated from Sparrows Point in 1986 and 1988, respectively. In fact, Vickery, who completed his 25th year at the helm, was Tom Grimm's wood shop teacher in high school.
"It was mixed emotions," Tom Grimm said, "but I was happy for both teams just making it here."
Class 1A final
(at University of Maryland)
Sparrows Point 000 000 0 – 0 2 2
Manchester Valley 320 220 x – 9 17 0
Peterson and Auvil; Grimm and Geho. 2B: MV-Grimm. 3B: SP-Burrows.