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North County softball continues dominant run with 10-0 win over Howard in region final

Top-seeded North County softball captured the Class 4A East Region I title with a 10-0 win over No. 2 seed Howard Saturday afternoon.
Top-seeded North County softball captured the Class 4A East Region I title with a 10-0 win over No. 2 seed Howard Saturday afternoon. (Katherine Fominykh)

It didn’t matter that Bella Coates tripped over third base — nothing could ruin her joy in that moment.

She crossed the plate and crashed into the arms of her North County teammates after her three-run home run sailed over the fence and put an immediate end to a 10-0 victory.

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The top-seeded Knights, with the five-inning win over No. 2 seed Howard Saturday afternoon, captured their first regional title since 2005 when they won their fourth state title in six years. North County (14-0), as one of three undefeated teams playing for region titles, will be seeded first, second or third and host a Class 4A quarterfinal game on Monday.

“We have the biggest field, so to hit it out of our field? It’s a shot,” North County coach Kelly Guarnieri said. “She got all of that one. I was so just so excited for her.”

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The Knights have yet to play a close game in the playoffs. They cruised past Old Mill in familiar fashion on Wednesday, and that’s just what you have to do in the playoffs, winning pitcher Breanna Clayton said.

“Feels good to go far, to keep winning, to keep the momentum from fast games,” said Coates, who went 3-for-4.

The Knights will keep the plaque recognizing their accomplishment in their dugout, for good luck to come as they head to the state quarterfinals. To them, though, it doesn’t matter who they get in the next round.

As long as North County fulfills its daily goals of improvement, the last Anne Arundel team in Class 4A feels it’ll be alright.

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“It feels so good. These girls have worked every day, and even at this point in the season, we’re still getting better every day,” Guarnieri said. “That’s our goal. So I think we’re better today than we were yesterday than we were on Wednesday.”

Howard coach Chuck Rice believes his team, regardless of the outcome, “did wonders” despite the unusual spring season.

“This is our first loss since the third game of the season. We went through a majority of the season with only a handful of practices because we were playing every day,” the Lions coach said. “So we fought really, really hard. You can’t change that.”

Clayton knew she had to pitch well from the start. She tried to clear the pressure of a potential state quarterfinal berth from her mind.

“Everyone’s telling us [Howard pitcher Maddie Coleman is] gonna be a stud,” Clayton said. “I was like, OK, gotta bring the A-game. Just gotta hone in.”

Clayton brought just that. The pitcher that threw no-hitters and several one- and two-hitters this season notched her first of nine strikeouts in the first inning. She allowed just one Howard (10-3) base-runner and a walk in five innings.

Coleman likewise flexed the pitching finesse she showed against Glen Burnie on Tuesday to start, whiffing the very first batter she saw and making the next fly-out.

Come the second inning, the Knights stabbed at every good pitch they saw, sending singles sailing out deep into their already considerably large field. Though Coleman handled most of the North County lineup the first time, the Knights showed how deep they were: No. 9 hitter Sam Braun sparked the momentum with a two-run smash to the outfield.

And North County loves momentum. Hits are, after all, contagious, Guarnieri said.

“We can beat ourselves before anyone beats us,” Coates said. “I think if we play to the level we know we can play, we’ll be fine.”

The Knights moved like a boulder that just hit the steepest decline of a hill. The hosts added one run in the third but exploded in the fourth. Linsey Voorhese, Coates and Skylar Barton all plated their teammates to build a 6-0 lead into the fifth.

The Lions just couldn’t wake their bats in response against Clayton. Rice thinks his team might’ve been better prepared had it been permitted to play out-of-county opponents as it would in a normal year.

“We haven’t seen that level of pitching since the second game of the season,” Rice said. “When you don’t see that every day and you got to adjust for it, it’s very hard. And that’s a good hitting team.”

Howard nearly survived the fifth inning. Even though it allowed a run to score on an Emma Sullivan (3-for-4) knock, the Lions had two outs already. It could do this.

The moment Coates’ bat met the ball, Guarnieri knew. As it went over the wall, the Knights streamed out of their dugout to meet their catcher at home.

“I was so happy for her,” Clayton said. “She deserved it. She’s been hitting ‘em off, and I’ve been telling her all season: ‘hit the weight room! One more rep!’”

“That was that one rep,” Coates replied.

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