Matt Cannistraci, before being doused by cooler filled with ice water following his South Carroll softball team's win Friday in the Class 2A West championship, talked about the bridge between the program's two trips to the state tournament being a pair of standout starting pitchers.
Kristen Griffith, who know plays for Jacksonville University, led the Cavaliers to the state semifinals in 2014. This spring, it's junior Chloe Sharman in the pitcher's circle. But there's another aspect to the Cavs' success, Cannistraci said, one that involves showing younger girls in the Winfield area what they could be in store for should they decide to play softball in high school.
"I've been blessed with two pitchers ... and that's a big part of it," SC's coach said. "But, when you start to have a winning tradition, the younger ones, the ones that are down in the seventh and eighth grade, they know about South Carroll softball now. And they're trying to play in better summer leagues and trying to get better to be able to come up and contribute."
Sydni Carroll is one of those younger players. She's a freshman on a roster filled with juniors and seniors. And she's making a solid impact for the Cavaliers (17-5), who face Southern of Anne Arundel County in the 2A state semifinals Tuesday at Bachman Softball Park in Glen Burnie.
Cannistraci placed Carroll at shortstop and usually pencils her name in the No. 2 spot in his lineup, hoping the left-handed hitter can use her bat and speed to reach base and set up her heavy-hitting teammates that follow in the order.
Most of this season, Cannistraci's plan has paid off — Carroll is batting .527, tops in the county, with 22 runs scored and 12 RBIs. She's also 13-for-14 in stolen base attempts.
Her one double this year was a big one, a two-out hit that brought in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning of the regional final against Catoctin. Carroll scored an insurance run for Sharman and the Cavs by racing home after an error, and SC prevailed 8-6.
"I'm so happy, especially for the seniors," said Carroll, who had three hits and three runs against Cougars. "They've really worked hard for this, and I'm really happy for them."
Carroll couldn't hide a toothy smile while she and her teammates celebrated with the 2A West plaque. In the early evening hours Friday, the Cavaliers weren't thinking much on who their next opponent would be. Now they know it's Southern (12-13), making its first appearance in a state tournament.
The Bulldogs cruised through their first three 2A South opponents by outscoring them 64-2, then held off La Plata 1-0 in the regional final. Senior pitcher Caitlin Brumley is Southern's top hitter at .494 with nine doubles and 25 RBIs. But Brumley is 9-13 with a 4.39 ERA.
Meanwhile, Sharman is 17-5 with 1.88 ERA and 158 strikeouts. She's backed by a sturdy outfield, with Marlee Carroll, Sydni's older sister, in left, Morgan Alder in center, and Sydney Ruckel in right.
All three outfielders are seniors, as are third baseman Katlyn Davis, second baseman Sam Amateau, and catcher Devin Scales.
Sydni Carroll and Sydney Ashley have found their way into SC's lineup as freshmen, and it seems they've been a welcome addition.
"You know, Sydni, I don't think I've ever seen her frown," Sharman said. "She's always positive, she's always up. She's a great player, her and Marlee both. ... It's a great duo. I'm so excited to have her back next year. I know I can rely on her at short, and I know I can rely on her in the 2 spot to always get on, always get that run."
South Carroll is riding an eight-game winning streak into the state semifinals, and a win would advance the Cavs to their first championship game. And this after they won their first county title since 1982 during the regular season.
"Everyone really did doubt us," Sharman said. "We weren't ranked at the beginning of the season. everyone thought we were going to lose. Everyone wanted us to lose. And it just feels great to prove them wrong. We've just been saying, 'Do what they don't want you to do,' and we've really followed through with that."