Old Mill's Jen Schmittle has been a thorn in the side of North County's softball team, keying this year's Patriots to two regular-season victories over the Knights.
In a 6-3 victory on April 13, Schmittle went 1-for-4 with three RBI and scored twice against the Knights' hurler, Karen Hay. And in a 7-2 win five days later, Schmittle (5-1) went the distance, fanning seven batters and handing No. 2 pitcher Kristie Rhinehart the loss.
But after the top of the fifth inning of the Knights' 3-1 Class 4A Region IV semifinal win yesterday, Rhinehart and Hay turned the frustrater into the frustrated.
That inning ended with Schmittle (0-for-3, one RBI) flying out to right fielder Rhinehart with the tying runs on base and the Patriots trailing, 3-1. Schmittle, who entered the game with a team-leading .491 average, walked behind the backstop and whispered to her father, "I might not get up again."
Schmittle was right. Hay (14-2, 0.14 ERA) retired the last six of the 27 batters she faced, including two of her eight strikeouts. Schmittle replaced Jennifer Bostak (6-3) in the fourth inning, yielding two of the Knights' eight hits, striking out five and walking one.
"They hit me great the last time we played them, and I thought they would do it again," said Hay, who entered with a four-year ERA of 1.29.
But Hay and battery mate Lisa Garrison are on a mission.
Since winning Class 1A state titles at Brooklyn Park in their freshman and sophomore seasons, the duo has been itching to get back to a state title game. Last year, Chesapeake thwarted the Knights, 5-4, keeping North County from the playoffs and going on to win the 4A title.
The No. 2 seed Knights (18-3) next face the top-seeded Cougars (16-1), a 6-0 winner over fourth-seeded Arundel (11-8) yesterday. North County edged the Cougars, 2-0, in their only meeting this year.
"We were nervous as a team today, but I was confident," said Garrison, who went 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs. "We knew their batters and I just told our defense how to line up for the hits."
North County trailed, 1-0, after the top of the first. Hay walked Lori Lynch, who took two bases when Cindy Parulis' shot slipped under the glove of first baseman Kim Horney, and scored on a Schmittle comebacker.
Garrison's single in the bottom of the first scored Nicole Faulkner to tie the game and raise her RBI total to 13. She took second base on a fielder's choice out, then made it 2-1 when Bostak fielded Tonya Kolodziejski's grounder, but lobbed it over first baseman Sarah Storr's head.
After hitting the Patriots' Amy McKenzie with a second-inning pitch, forcing her from the game with a broken right wrist, Hay settled into a groove. Kolodziejski's third-inning single scored Garrison to give Hay a comfortable lead.
It was the Knights' fifth straight win since losing, 2-1, to defending Class 2A-1A state champion Northeast. The Knights are ranked fifth in the Baltimore Sun metro area poll.
The No. 2-ranked Patriots (17-3) were 13-0 this year before losing to Chesapeake for the first of two times.