Rising Sun seniors Faith McCullough and Cadence Williams combined for seven shutout innings and Jordan Lynch, Josalyn McMillan and Kelsey Barks had two hits each to lead the Tigers to a 7-0 victory over Eastern Tech in the Class 2A softball state semifinals at Bachman Park.
Rising Sun (21-1) won its 21st straight game and will make its second consecutive trip to the state final after falling to Calvert, 5-4, in eight innings last year. The Tigers were making their 12th trip to the state’s final four and are seeking a seventh state title.
Eastern Tech (16-4) was attempting to win its second state title in its 13th appearance after winning its only one in 2014 when current coach Giselle Alvarez played for the Mavericks.
“I’m excited about the state championship game,” McCullough said. “I think we are going to go there this time and we are going to win it this time. We are not going to go out there in second place again.”
McCullough started in the circle and breezed through four innings, allowing a single by Audrey Coker on a liner that tipped off the outstretched glove of shortstop Lynch.
“I do prefer starting and I know Cadence definitely prefers to close,” said McCullough, who struck out six and allowed one walk to catcher Erica Young in the third inning.
Rising Sun coach Paul Taylor planned to pull her after four innings whether she had a no-hitter or not.
“They have been confident all year. They back each other up really well,” Taylor said. ”This year during the season we used three pitchers, it was basically two a game. That’s basically been our routine, so we’re just trying to keep that going.”
McCullough also had the luxury of a flawless defense and an offense that gave her a five-run cushion before her exit after the fourth.
“I feel so much more confident going in to pitch knowing I have like a pillow right behind me,” said McCullough, who has committed to play at Towson University.
Eastern Tech’s Malorie Gogel, the team’s only senior, started on the mound and allowed a two-out hit and a walk in the first before getting out of trouble by inducing a groundout to first baseman Hayden Gilpatrick.
Gogel retired the first two batters in the bottom of the second before a hit batter and RBI double by Catharine Meadows got the Tigers on board. Eastern Tech center fielder Gracie Himmelman nearly ended the inning on a long running catch, but the ball glanced off her glove and became an RBI triple for speedy leadoff hitter Lynch.
In the bottom of the third, the leadoff batter reached on an error, but courtesy runner Olivia Stickley was caught stealing second by Young. Singles by Williams and McCullough were followed by an RBI single by Barks and sacrifice fly by Madison Fairweather and the lead was 4-0 after three.
Back-to-back doubles by Lynch and Josalyn McMillan plated another run in the fourth.
“We are very aggressive on the bases,” Taylor said. “The girls know, ‘Just don’t settle for one base, always be looking for the next one,’ and we have a couple ladies that are super fast and we utilize that speed all the time.”
Williams relieved McCullough in the fifth and retired the first six batters on strikeouts. Himmelman’s single in the seventh was the only blemish for the University of South Alabama commit.
Alvarez was impressed by the Rising Sun pitchers and plans to make adjustments for the postseason next year.
“[That pitching] is definitely something that we don’t see during the regular season and moving forward, this is only my second year coaching, it’s something for me to implement,” she said. “What are ways I can get the girls more prepared for this stage?”
She also praised her team’s hustle defensively.
“You play the game your hardest and if you do that, you will never regret it,” she said. “And I think the girls did that today and I think they are very proud even just being here and Eastern Tech’s presence just being here and letting other schools and everyone in the industry know that Eastern Tech is back and definitely a team that can compete.”
Gogel, who was relieved by May Dyer in the fourth inning, came back in to pitch in the seventh and end her senior season on the mound.
“I have a very, very fantastic group that I am still going to have next year. This is just the first step,” Alvarez said. “They know they want to come back here next year and they know what they are going to need to do in order to compete with competitive teams like Rising Sun, and I have no doubt in my mind that they are going to be able to do it.”
Rising Sun will get a rematch with Calvert in the state championship game, either Friday or Saturday at the University of Maryland softball complex.
“We had a mission to get there and we want to push through,” Taylor said.