COLLEGE PARK — Westminster’s softball team started the season with a last-minute coaching change, and fielded a roster with three seniors, devoid of juniors, and filled with sophomores.
The Owls struggled to put together even a handful of wins last spring, but this year’s bunch opened the spring with a different approach. They contended for a Carroll County Athletic League title, then won a regional championship and a state tournament game to reach the Class 3A final.
Friday night’s game against Huntingtown at Maryland Softball Stadium was a rematch from two years ago, when Westminster ended that spring with a championship. This time, the Hurricanes from Calvert County were improved – and tougher.
The Owls scratched out two hits but nothing more against junior pitcher Tori Fletcher, who led her team to a 5-0 win.
Westminster (14-7) beat Huntingtown 10-5 two years ago for the title, and was going for another crown after an impressive regular season and playoff run. The Hurricanes reversed that outcome and ended the high school career of Westminster’s three seniors — Jill Haines, Olivia Herman, and Bailey Whalen — on a disappointing note. But Haines said the season was not a disappointment in the least.
“We have a whole new team, we have a whole new setup,” said Haines while clutching the state finalist trophy. “Coming in here, we didn’t know what to expect at first from it … but we just came out here and tried our hardest.”
Huntingtown (23-1) put three runs on the board in the third inning behind RBI singles from Fletcher and Jordan Paddy, and an RBI groundout by Callie Hilgenberg. The Owls had their chances early, but Fletcher seemed to get stronger as the game went on.
Westminster stranded a runner at third in the second inning, and got one to second base in the fourth but failed to score. Their first hit came from Whalen, who legged out an infield single in the first. She raced to second on a wild pitch before Fletcher struck out Jackie Coyle and Herman to end the inning.
The Owls had a few impressive defensive efforts to keep the game close.
They ended Huntingtown’s rally in the second inning when Sophie Futchko singled to right. Paddy went from first to second and turned to go toward third before trying to get back, which would have loaded the bases. But right fielder Alyssa Dixon fired to second, where shortstop Coyle tagged Futchko for the third out.
The Hurricanes were trying for more runs in the third but Herman made a diving catch on a short pop near the plate for the final out.
Huntingtown added a run in the fifth and another in the sixth, and Fletcher made things tough on Westminster the rest of the way. She finished with nine strikeouts, and posted two in the seventh inning before snagging the final out on a comebacker to the circle. Her soft toss to first ignited a celebration for the Hurricanes, while Westminster retreated to its first-base dugout.
There were some tears, but the Owls did their best to soak up the experience. And with a roster full of underclassmen, it’s likely they’ll be in contention for more success next spring.
“I think it really came down to heavy leadership from us three,” Herman said about the trio of Owls seniors. “It has been an awesome year, and it has been a great end to all three of the seniors’ careers. I think we’re going to take this experience, and the [title] before, through with us for the rest of our lives.”