Last season, outside distractions kept the Chapelgate softball game from reaching its full potential. The aftermath showed a measly 7-12 record, just five conference wins in nine games and a dissatisfied clubhouse questioning the program's pillars.
"We went through a lot of team drama last year," Chapelgate coach John Isaac said in a postgame interview Monday. "Our senior leadership stepped up and said, 'OK, we're changing our culture.'"
Isaac made changes, too. In summer workouts, he noticed his team's pure speed and sharpness around the base paths. He couldn't ignore it and brought in a few University of Maryland softball players for a bunting and slapping clinic. Isaac also constructed a workout plan to improve base running.
That blueprint has transformed the Yellowjackets from a middle-of-the-road unit in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland to the team everyone is gunning for as next week's B Conference playoffs await. On Monday evening at Fairland Regional Park in Laurel, Chapelgate stayed undefeated in the conference with a 6-5 win over winless Pallotti.
While the speed didn't translate into an impressive run total, it pressured Pallotti into seven errors and kept innings alive with infield singles.
"We work on our bunt and slap game because it puts so much pressure on defenses," said Isaac, who noted seven players can get from the batter's box to first base in 3.1 seconds or less and his team's on-base percentage has jumped 150 points.
The Yellowjackets (8-0 IAAM B, 11-2 overall) pounced on the Panthers early and frontloaded their output, holding a 6-0 lead after the top of the fourth inning. Sophomore catcher Ellie Henneberg got things going in the top of the first with a booming RBI triple down the left field line. In the third inning, Chapelgate plated two runs thanks to three Pallotti errors, and in the fourth two Panther errors and four infield hits manufactured three more runs for a 6-0 cushion.
Junior shortstop and pitcher Grace Edwards, one of the key influences in this turnaround, finished the day 3-for-4 with three RBIs and a productive outing at pitcher (four innings, five hits, two earned runs, two walks, and four strikeouts).
"We're just trying to have good attitudes and spread that throughout the team," Edwards said.
But after Chapelgate went ahead by six runs on eight hits, it went hitless the final three innings. Kennedy Essex, Ysabella Monzon, and Colleen Blasko strung together three straight hits for Pallotti, which set up a three-run bottom of the fourth inning that cut the deficit to 6-3.
In the fifth frame, Essex got on base after a hit-by-pitch, and later scored on an RBI from Blasko. Bonzon reached first on a blooper to shallow left field and managed to score shortly after on a throwing error. That made it 6-5, and while the Panthers turned the tide, they left eight on base the final four innings, including the bases loaded twice. They also couldn't overcome seven team errors.
Monzon pitched a complete game on 115 pitches, surrendering eight hits, four earned runs and three walks. She also struck out six batters and faced just 12 batters the final three innings.
"This is the best we've played as a team," Pallotti assistant coach Rejanae Brooks said. "We have to eliminate errors. Errors are what gives away the game. When you eliminate them, you can win. And in the end, we eliminated a lot of errors and capitalized on the other team's."
It's also worth noting Chapelgate operates with a razor-thin roster of just 10 players, given the small enrollment number at the school.
"Making sure no one gets hurt is what's stressful about it," Henneberg said. "But we have a ridiculous amount of speed."
The Yellowjackets play their regular season finale at home Tuesday against Annapolis Area Christian and will then prepare for next week's playoffs, where they'll have a first-round bye and play in the quarterfinals next Tuesday at home.
"The fun part going into it is we've beaten everybody we're going to see," Isaac said. "It's just, can we keep up the momentum, keep our game going. … We may only have 10 players, but I'll take my starting nine over anybody else's right now.
"We're going to keep pressing on and reach for the brass ring next week."