For the last two years Arundel’s softball team has been waiting for another shot at Leonardtown and its ace pitcher Kaitlin Beasley-Polko.
On Thursday, with the 4A East regional championship on the line, the Wildcats got their opportunity and made the most of it.
After playing to a scoreless tie through seven innings, Arundel took advantage of a little small ball and a handful of Leonardtown errors in the top of the eighth on the way to plating the deciding runs in an eventual 3-0 win. The victory secures the Wildcat program its first regional crown since 1983 and a berth in the state semifinals next week.
“We spent the last two years, after coming down here and not being able to hit her at all, frequently having practices just to be able to face this pitcher,” said Arundel coach Lisa Mills, whose team lost 4-0 to Leonardtown in the regional title game in 2015. “We worked on two-ups, time-slaps, push-bunts … all of it just so we would be ready when we faced her again. So in that last inning, each girl picked what worked for them and the goal was to just put the ball in play.
“She’s a phenomenal pitcher, she was again today, but we put pressure on their defense in that last inning and it worked.”
Coming into Thursday, Beasley-Polko and Leonardtown (21-2) had surrendered just eight runs all season and no opponent had scored more than two runs against them in a single game.
For the Arundel (20-4) upperclassmen, including senior second baseman Steffany Jerman, it was an emotional moment breaking through and getting to raise the championship plaque.
“I was extremely happy. Like, it’s my last year, so I better give it all out,” Jerman said. “We have to end up with a big bang and this is the team to do it. We are a team that will never give up. We always finish strong.”
This Wildcat team has adopted that “finish strong” mantra all spring and the last two playoff games have been perfect examples of that. In the regional semifinals, Arundel defeated Severna Park on a walk-off 2-run home run by senior Kaelyn Lavin.
Then, against the Raiders, Arundel regrouped after managing just two hits during the first seven innings to execute some perfect placement en route to scoring three times in the eighth and extending its season.
In the decisive extra frame, which was played under the international tie breaker rules that allow each team to start with a runner on second base, Arundel didn’t hit a single ball out of the infield. But thanks to a mix of bunts, slap-hits and Leonardtown errant throws, the Wildcats moved runners around the bases and built momentum.
“I was just really proud of the girls that they didn’t press, they stayed calm and stayed confident even when we weren’t getting the hits early,” Mills said. “That eighth inning, they followed the game plan and they were rewarded.”
Sophomore Maddy Miller ended up scoring the game’s first run, starting the inning on second base and then moving to third on a passed ball. She then came home on a low throw by Leonardtown to first after a bunt, making it a 1-0 game.
With Arundel now ahead, Faith Cheetham, Jerman and Cheyenne Starr all followed with infield singles to help plate Lavin — who had reached on the initial error in the inning. Then, with two outs, another errant throw trying to double up a runner at first following an infield lineout helped Cheetham tag up and score from third to make it a three-run game.
“Unfortunately, we just didn’t execute the plays that we needed to make,” Leonardtown coach Kim Schrader said. “It was a rough inning for us at an inopportune time. Overall, it was a battle just like we expected it would be and we came up short.”
In the bottom of the eighth, Arundel’s Caroline Mills came on in relief of Grace Palmieri — who had allowed just four hits and recorded nine putouts while fielding her position to match Beasley-Polko (10 strikeouts) frame for frame. Mills started things by getting a line-out to second-baseman Jerman, who alertly raced to the bag and doubled up the runner for a quick two outs.
Leonardtown rallied to put two more runners on and bring the tying run to the plate, but Mills buckled down and recorded a strikeout to close things out.
Arundel stormed the field to celebrate and complete quite the program revival since Mills took over four years ago.
“The first year I came in here, we had a losing record and they had losing records forever before that. Three of the seniors on this team were freshmen when I started and have been starters basically the entire way, so I really wanted something in the school to represent them,” she said. “Even though we were under .500 that first year, it’s the three of them [Steffany Jerman, Tiffany Jerman and Kaelyn Lavin] that started the transition to the winning program we are today. Getting the banner up on the wall, particularly for them, is really special.”
Arundel 3, Leonardtown 0 (8 innings)
123 456 78 R-H-E
A 000 000 03 3-5-0
L 000 000 00 0-5-4
WP – Palmieri (A); LP – Beasley-Polko (L). SV – Mills (A).
2B – Cheyenne Starr (A).