This year's county championship eluded Mike Hernandez and his Manchester Valley softball team, but the Mavericks and their coach had bigger goals in mind once the regular season came to an end.
For the second straight season, Hernandez led the Mavs to a Class 1A state championship, and this year's title run ended with a Times Coach of the Year honor for the sixth-year coach.
Man Valley dropped two of three in a three-day stretch as April turned to May, and Hernandez was staring at an 11-3 county record and second place in the Carroll standings (Liberty, which split with MV, won the county title). The Mavericks opened the season with eight straight wins, backed by a wealth of all-county talent on offense and defense.
But just when it seemed as if things were falling apart, Hernandez relied on his veterans to get the Mavericks (19-4) back on track.
They outscored the 1A West competition 20-1. Then senior pitcher Madison Grimm dominated Allegany in the regional final with 17 strikeouts, helping MV capture the 1A West crown. That helped set up a state final rematch with Sparrows Point at Maryland Softball Complex in College Park.
Manchester Valley had no trouble with the Pointers — Grimm had a five-inning no-hitter, struck out 10, and junior shortstop Jessie Swistock had two hits and two runs in MV's 11-0 victory.
"It's having them all clicking, and clicking at the right time," Hernandez said after the state championship game.
Manchester Valley was rewarded for its stellar season with seven Times all-county selections, led by Grimm, the Player of the Year, and fellow first-teamers Swistock, sophomore Lauren Vogel and junior Kayla Geho.
Hernandez is creeping closer to .500 for his all-time record as Mavs coach (56-60), and he is likely to return a good bit of this year's roster in 2016. Grimm was one of five seniors on the team, but it included four freshmen and six sophomores by the time Man Valley reached the 1A final.
"This group of players from freshmen through the seniors had great chemistry," Hernandez said. "As a coach, you always worry about drama when you mix all the different classes. With this group, they all knew what they were responsible and accountable for."