Chloe Sharman and her South Carroll softball teammates were two outs away from capturing a regional championship on Catoctin's home field until something dramatic happened.
Cougars senior Jessica Bryant, who last season set a state record for home runs in a season, ripped a two-run shot over the fence in right-center, and Catoctin tied the game. It could have been a swing in momentum too much for the Cavaliers to overcome against the reigning regional champs.
But Sharman said she was more than stoic in the pitcher's circle even as Bryant circled the bases and rejoiced with her teammates at home plate.
With the way things have been going I knew something was going to happen," Sharman said. "Nothing's perfect, honestly. .. You know, surprisingly I was completely relaxed. I was content. I knew I had to do my job and my team was behind me."
Sharman's faith became realized in the eighth inning, when South Carroll scored twice and held on for an 8-6 win to claim the Class 2A West title.
Sydni Carroll's two-out double to right-center brought home Victoria Holston from second (she started the inning there with no outs, under the international tiebreaker rules). Carroll then scampered home when Sam Amateau reached on an error, giving Sharman a slight cushion with which to work.
Sharman had a two-run lead in the seventh before Bryant, who launched a solo shot to deep left in the first inning, sent a game-tying blast over the fence. Catoctin loaded the bases in the eighth with two outs, but Sharman got lead-off hitter Allison Larochelle on a comebacker for the final out.
The Cavaliers (17-5) celebrated their eighth consecutive win, and this one came with a ticket to the state semifinals. South Carroll advances to face Southern of Anne Arundel County on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Bachman Softball Park in Glen Burnie.
South Carroll's last three playoff wins have been thrilling to say the least — they rallied from a 5-0 deficit to beat Century 6-5 on a walk-off hit; Sharman blanked rival Liberty 1-0 in the sectional final; and Friday's regional title game went back and forth throughout.
"They fought and they clawed, and they proved to [themselves] that they're never down and they're never out," SC coach Matt Cannistraci said, using the Century game as a focal point. "We knew [the Cougars] were a very good team, and we knew Jess [was] a great hitter."
Bryant (16 home runs last year) went 4-for-4 with three RBIs and three runs scored, but South Carroll got to her early as Catoctin's starting pitcher.
Sydney Ashley came through in the first inning with a two-out, two-run double. Morgan Alder's RBI groundout and Sydney Ruckel's run-scoring single in the second made it 4-1.
Catoctin (20-2) tied things up in the fourth when Michaela Persinger slammed a three-run home run over the fence in left-center. The Cougars appeared to take a 5-4 lead three batters later, when Kassidy Tobery's fly ball to left scored Grace Mazaleski from third.
South Carroll got the ball back to Sharman, who stepped out of the circle and threw to Katlyn Davis at third for an appeal that Mazaleski didn't tag up on the flyout.
The umpires agreed and the Cavs got out of the inning, to much disagreement from Catoctin's coaches and the home team's fans.
The Cavs took a 5-4 lead in the fifth on a sac fly from Marlee Carroll, and added another run in the seventh after Amateau singled and scored two batters later on a throwing error.
Bryant's opposite-field homer in Catoctin's half of the seventh had all the makings of SC's demise. Sharman and her teammates weren't hearing it, however, and SC's ace got the next two outs to force extra innings.
"We deserved this so bad," said Sharman, who struck out six in the win.
Added Sydni Carroll: "I'm sure we were all nervous, but we knew had the team that could do it and come together to win it."
Carroll had three hits and scored three times for South Carroll, while Amateau reached base four times and Holston scored twice. The Cavaliers posed for photos with the regional championship plaque afterward, but it seemed obvious that wasn't the only hardware they've been seeking this spring.
"We've had the same goal, and I know I keep saying that," Sharman said. "But we're so determined, we're so focused on that end point."
South Carroll 220 010 12 — 8 11 4
Catoctin 100 300 20 — 6 8 3
SC-Chloe Sharman and Devin Scales; C-Jessica Bryant, Taylor Beckley (6) and Raegan Smith. 2B: SC-Sydney Ashley, Sydni Carroll; C-Jessica Wood. HR: C-Bryant 2, Michaela Persinger. WP: Sharman. LP: Beckley.