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Catonsville Clash 16U softball squad ends coach’s final season with a championship

From left, top, Chloe Dietz, Sam Rickwalder, Maddie LaCount, Aliya Rose, Grace Bielski, Mimi Truong, Brynn Bielski, Alyssa Ochmann and Abby Mitchell and bottom, Becca Aldave, show off their championship medals. Not pictured, Gillian Higgins.
From left, top, Chloe Dietz, Sam Rickwalder, Maddie LaCount, Aliya Rose, Grace Bielski, Mimi Truong, Brynn Bielski, Alyssa Ochmann and Abby Mitchell and bottom, Becca Aldave, show off their championship medals. Not pictured, Gillian Higgins. (Photo courtesy of Donnie Mitchell)

The Catonsville Clash 16-and-under fast-pitch softball team saved its best performance for last in a summer season shortened to just four tournaments because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the final tournament of the season, the 16U Clash went 5-0 and captured the championship against a field of 18U teams.

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The grand ending was even more special for coach Donnie Mitchell, who has been head coach of the squad since they were in the 12U age group.

Several of the girls started playing together for John Aldave’s 10U rec all-star team when Mitchell was an assistant.

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Mitchell announced before the final tournament that he would not be coaching next year, thus allowing girls to find other teams.

“The bittersweet part of this is I feel like we are definitely at a point where we can go in different directions,” Mitchell said. “We have some really good players that need to play at a higher level and some players that are moderately dedicated to softball. It just became too difficult to keep them all together.”

Abby Mitchell (P), Becca Aldave (C), Chloe Dietz (DH), Sam Rickwalder (SS), Maddie LaCount (OF), Aliya Rose (1B, OF) Gillian Higgins (OF), Grace Bielski (2B), Mimi Truong (OF), Brynn Bielski (2B) and Alyssa Ochmann (3B) were the 11 players who finished the season in style.

They beat the Maryland Sting handily, 12-5, to win the championship, but in the semifinals they had their toughest test and they passed in a 4-3 triumph over Hickory.

Pitcher Abby Mitchell and catcher Becca Aldave formed the battery for the Catonsville Clash 16U team that went undefeated and won its final tournament.
Pitcher Abby Mitchell and catcher Becca Aldave formed the battery for the Catonsville Clash 16U team that went undefeated and won its final tournament. (Photo courtesy of Donnie Mitchell)

“We just had really good defensive plays,” said Mitchell, recalling a fielding gem by left fielder LaCount when she threw a strike to third baseman Alyssa Ochman for an out.

“That was an awesome play,” Mitchell said.

The coach also praised the glovework of his pitcher and daughter, Abby Mitchell.

“She was outstanding really limiting the other team, they didn’t square much up all day and she also fielded her position really well,” he said. “She caught some line drives that were right up the middle and basically robbed them of hits.”

One of the best defensive plays didn’t even show up in the scorebook.

“One of the plays of the game was kind of controversial,” Mitchell said.

Center fielder Truong backtracked on a ball that caromed off her glove and carried her outside of the fence.

Truong got the ball from out of play and relayed to shortstop Sam Rickwalder, who threw a strike to Aldave, who made the tag for an out.

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At the time, the Clash was leading 4-2 with the game clock ticking down to six minutes on what could potentially make it the last inning.

The other umpire overruled the call and placed the runner at second for a ground-rule double.

“Unfortunately, they took an out away from us which was totally a momentum killer, but the good thing was it also took a lot of time off the clock,” Mitchell said.

Although the runner eventually scored, making it a one-run game, the clock ticked down, ensuring it was the final inning and, on a 3-2 pitch, Mitchell got the final batter on a popup to shortstop Rickwalder.

“That was the toughest game,” Mitchell admitted.

Catonsville Clash's Aliya Rose prepares for a pitch in game action for the 16U softball squad.
Catonsville Clash's Aliya Rose prepares for a pitch in game action for the 16U softball squad. (Photo courtesy of Donnie Mitchell)

Even though the championship game was a convincing win, Mitchell had his concerns.

“The final was tough for different reasons because at that point Abby had already pitched five games and she was out of gas,” said Mitchell, noting the Clash won two games in pool play and three in single-elimination bracket play.

“I had to struggle to find a pitcher that could throw strikes,” Mitchell said. “Finally, Alyssa Ochmann stepped up and closed out the last two innings because she came in and threw strikes.”

During the whole tournament the whole entire team contributed in various ways.

“I am so proud of how we played well in all aspects of the game, pitching, fielding, hitting, and base running was solid,” he noted.

Of the 11 players, five were on varsity teams when their high school seasons were curtailed.

Mitchell and Rickwalder made the Catonsville High varsity as freshman and Aldave (Mount de Sales), Truong (Western Tech) and Aliya Rose (Maryvale Prep) were also on varsity squads.

Mitchell expected to pick up the players in peak form after the high school season ended, but that never got started.

“Losing the high school season due to COVID just killed our momentum,” Mitchell said. “Our pitching was a little rusty and our hitting just wasn’t where it needed to be so we didn’t do too well in those first couple of tournaments.”

They only had nine players in the first tournament and were playing tougher B level 16U competition.

“We were playing the B level but we weren’t doing too well so USSSA dropped us to C and we played in 18U C brackets, he said. I felt all along we were a really excellent C team and at the B level we were going to try and be as competitive as we could. We just tried to push the girls to just get better.”

Not only were they getting better, but they were getting together again after months of isolation.

“We were just excited to get the kids out and having something to do and this is something they all love as well,” Mitchell said. “This group of girls are just really special, they have been together and they care about each other, even when they are not playing well they are positive.”

During the earlier tournaments, the Blaze had a tendency to play well on Saturdays and come out flat on Sundays when one loss knocks a team out of the tournament.

Fortunately, they reversed that trend in the final tournament.

“We were definitely playing our best softball at the end of the last tournament and that was the cool thing,” Mitchell said. “They were focused and they were really all in and it was really good to see them go out on top.”

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