Dulaney softball coach Dave Barwick predicted his Lions, a mix of more fresh faces than seasoned veterans, would reach the Baltimore County championship. Beyond that was an abyss, and a terribly difficult one. To think Dulaney would reach the Class 4A state semifinals surpassed his wildest dreams.
To now know his Lions are bound for the state championship, freshman Kimani Dennis put the feeling into words: “It’s amazing.”
After a masterclass in capitalizing in every inning, sixth-seeded Dulaney booked a trip to the final dance, beating No. 7 Broadneck, 7-2, at Bachman Sports Complex on Tuesday night. It is the first time the Lions reached the final since 2001. They’re still searching for their first title.
The Lions (18-6) secured their victory behind junior pitcher Lilly Tinker, who entered the circle in the second inning and held Broadneck (14-9) to two runs on five hits while striking out four and walking three.
“They’re playing such good softball right now. They’re not making any mistakes in the field, they know what to do with the ball,” Barwick said. “They’re doing everything just so perfectly. The best team I’ve fielded in a long time.”
Dulaney will take on No. 5 Urbana on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at University of Maryland in College Park for the state championship.
The Lions encountered their toughest days a month apart in the regular season. On April 6, they had the victory over Eastern Tech in hand, but squandered a five-run lead. Barwick blames himself for keeping his pitcher, who was fatigued, in the game. The next time they met May 4, Dulaney gave up 15 runs to the Mavericks. That was the only team Dulaney did not beat this year, and it learned from its fall.
Because the seven seniors — three who start — jelled with their underclassmen long ago. They trusted each other. They liked each other. They wanted to go as long as they could with each other, and they’d do whatever they could to achieve that.
“We didn’t want to see the seniors go,” Dennis said. “We knew we had to make this the best year. So, we did a lot of team bonding.”
Broadneck faced an equally unknown road back in March. The Bruins, a team of predominantly sophomores with just one starting senior, flew under the radar. Broadneck lost to both teams that went to the county championship, Northeast and Crofton, but that was just fine by it. The Bruins were walking their own road once they entered the 4A playoffs. They had a motto: “All In.”
And it’s not one they’re likely to abandon in the years to come. Broadneck proved one thing Tuesday night: It’s state contender once again.
“This just makes them hungrier,” second-year coach Beth Mackel said. “All year, we’ve improved on our mistakes and we’re just going to improve more. There’s lots of nerves, but every appearance, every high-profile game, they just do better and better.”
It’s what made the matchup between these two teams clandestine, in the end: both young, both having something to prove, both thirsting to end long droughts between championship appearances.
But Dulaney had the upper hand from the start.
The Lions treat each inning as a miniature game by principle, and that strategy went on full display immediately. Senior Ava Morrow (2-for-4, two RBI) glided home after a passed ball and a teammate’s groundout in the first inning. Senior Riley Hodiste scored on a wild pitch in the second.
But it was the third inning’s score that sealed it in Dennis’ heart.
Broadneck center fielder Addie Cornelius did all she could to stop Marrow’s blast. The sophomore hustled full speed at the fence, eyes to the sky as it whistled towards her. The neon yellow ball dropped past the fence, and so did half of Cornelius — the outfielder hung on the fence, , but was unable to stop the home run.
With her fourth homer of the spring, Morrow steamed home to waiting arms of black and red, a 3-0 lead in hand.
“I knew,” Dennis said. “Once she hit the home run. The energy was up and it stayed up. I think that’s what got us the win.”
Fellow freshman Chloe Renaldo proved her right in the bottom of the fourth, with her RBI pushing the score to 4-0.
Broadneck’s hitters promised each other the fifth would be their breakthrough. But the bats just could not survive against Tinker’s pitching and the Lions’ defense.
For Dulaney, however, the hitting party had just begun.
With two outs, Dennis cracked a hard grounder to left field. Senior first baseman Kayla Bright followed suit, clocking her shot in center field while her speedy teammate crossed second base. Dennis only intended to reach third. But when the throw slipped away, she spirited home for the fifth run.
Enough was enough for Broadneck. The Bruins hadn’t trekked up I-97 in rush hour to doze through their first state semifinal in 13 years.
With two outs in the top sixth, Cornelius and sophomore Bella Hererra waited on base for something to happen, and something did.
Sophomore Aliceanna Weibley carved a clean path to the outfield and Cornelius dove home with Broadneck’s first run. Junior shortstop Mara Gilkey matched her, driving her RBI single to center to make it 5-2.
Energy and screams poured out of Bruins dugout. This was their chance.
That chance made it about 20 feet down the third base line on an attempted steal of home and was tagged by Lions catcher Carley Desi, another freshman, for the third out.
Senior Grace Overcash and freshman Ava O’Donnell unwound all of Broadneck’s scoring with their own, both running home on teammates’ sacrifice flies for the 7-2 final. The Bruins’ seventh-inning offense worked to battle back, but the Lions’ defense overwhelmed it. A double play — Dennis’ work — deprived the last bit of air from Broadneck’s rally.
Joy rushed through the freshman then, just moments before she and her teammates ran to the circle for a celebration not one current Lion had ever experienced.
“I felt so great. It was amazing,” Dennis said. “We’re gonna prepare a little bit, but we’re going to keep this energy up.”
Broadneck would like to experience that feeling too. Mackel said she knew her team would love the chance to replay the game immediately.
“Because they’re competitors,” the Bruins coach said. “And I’ve no doubt they’ll be back here winning next year.”