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During this past regular season in the Carroll County Church Softball League, Grace Lutheran's team was, to use a time-worn phrase, consistent only in its inconsistency.

This meant that losing streaks were kept mercifully short; however it also meant that winning streaks were out of the question. But for one memorable day a couple of weeks ago, Grace was amazing.

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The Westminster-based church team went out and had a big winning streak. It won the Carroll County Church League championship tournament with a five-game sweep at the Carroll County Sports Complex.

The last couple of years, Grace Lutheran has done fairly well in postseason play. Manager Brandon Dillon, who has been at the team's helm for 10 years, recalled its second-place finish of two years ago. Last season, it lasted three games in the postseason after being seeded No. 4 coming in.

This season it added a few players. Most significant was shortstop Nick Pupo who filled an important position and also added a strong bat to the lineup. Pupo also did a good job in left center field when called upon to fill in there.

Dillon had a lot of players on his shifting roster. But having enough people in the right positions at the games sometimes proved to be a chore. He said that when he had all of his top players there, the team was good, even good enough to be a threat as a matter of fact.

However, Dillon knew that they wouldn't be there all the time. So when the season began, the most optimistic prognostication he could make was that, "we had a somewhat decent chance to win."

Even that was saying a lot in a league that New Windsor Presbyterian Church has utterly dominated over the years. Those folks were back again this season, too, and most people would have considered it folly to bet against it.

The track of the subsequent regular season was, as Dillon described it "a roller coaster ride."

He said that when the players went for base hits, they hit. When they went up and swung for home runs, they didn't.

He said that they could be spectacular in the first game of their double headers and equally bad in the next.

Sometimes they caught the ball, and sometimes they didn't. Defensively the team could be a vacuum cleaner or a sieve, depending on the game.

It made somewhere between 50 and 60 errors in 24 regular-season games, Dillon said. But it would make only three in its five playoff games.

When the regular season was over, Grace, which played in the league's Red Division, finished 13-10-1.

But an entirely different team would show up at the Complex on August 20, as everybody soon discovered.

In its very first inning, Grace Lutheran scored six runs. It went on to rip the Crosswinds Church, 13-1.Nick Favio was 3-for-3, Mike Johnson, 2-for-2 and Greg Hiner, 1-for-2 for the winners.

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Their teammates Matt Gawel and Bruce Leppo were 2-for-3 and 1-for-2.

The second game win over Westminster United Methodist was closer than the 17-8 final score indicated. The teams were 6-6 after the third inning and Grace trailed 8-7 after four. But it scored three runs in the sixth to go ahead and broke things open with a six-run seventh.

Josh Yacovissi was 3-for-3; Eric Seipp and Mike Zeller were each 2-for-3. Jim Green went 2-for-4 while Leppo was 1-for-3 with an RBI and run scored for the winners.

Game three against Ascension Episcopal was a cliff-hanger. The teams were tied 7-7 after four innings. Then, Ascension pulled ahead with two runs in the home fifth. Trailing 9-7, Grace scored three of its own in its sixth inning to go ahead for good.

Dillon and Jim Green each had an RBI hit to tie the game 9-9. Then, Pupo's sacrifice fly plated the winning run in the 10-9 victory.

Mike Johnson was 3-for-3 for Grace Lutheran; Ben Crews and Jamie Hooper were each 2-for-2. Hiner was 1-for-1 before leaving the game with an injury.

The next game was against Ellicott City which had beaten Grace both games of their regular season doubleheader.

But Grace Lutheran got revenge in this one. It scored 10 runs in the third inning to shatter a 5-5 tie and went on to hammer Ellicott City 19-9.

Dillon was 3-for-3 and Luke Geiman, 2-for-3. Pupo hit a two-run homer.

"We felt we had it in the bag after that game. After we took them out, 19-9, it didn't matter who we played in the championship game. We knew we were unbeatable," Dillon said.

Ellicott City then came out of the losers' bracket, eliminating long-time league champ New Windsor Presbyterian in the process.

It then proceeded to dismantle Grace Lutheran, but only for two innings. It led Grace 15-2 after those two frames.However, Grace poured across 14 runs in the third inning to take a 16-15 lead and added four more in the fourth.

When it was over, it was a winner in a wild championship game 22-18.

Tony Battaglia was 1-for-3 and Zach Green 2-for-4. Dillon went 3-for-3 in the game and Crews went 3-for-4.

The big hitter, though, was Pupo. He hit a pair of three-run homers in the contest and was later voted tournament MVP.

Pupo was 8-for-14 (.571) in the tourney. He had three home runs and 18 RBIs in the five tournament games.

"After we went ahead 16-15 we knew we were doing this and taking them. But it was good to get those two runs in the last inning to build up our lead," Dillon said. "They had two out and two on in the last inning. They batter hit a fly ball to left-center, and I yelled 'squeeze it!' to the outfielder. When he caught it, we all celebrated.

"When it was all over, it was a big relief."

The team's coming back next year; Dillon says he may or may not manage it. But if he does stop here, one thing is certain. He can say he went out on a high note.

410-857-7896

Ideas wanted

If you know of a Carroll athlete, team, or league that deserves to be featured in the Rec Sports Spotlight, call sports editor Pat Stoetzer at 410-857-7896 or email him at sports@carroll countytimes.com.

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