DAMASCUS -- Before the members of Northeast's softball team began their pre-game calisthenics Saturday, they formed a line and made one trip around the bases.
The purpose was to get a feel for the infield at Damascus Recreational Park in Montgomery County, site of the Class 2A VTC Region III finals. But the jog also provided the Eagles with their lone chance to cross home plate.
Only two Northeast batters reached base against Damascus senior Marci Whitehead, who evened the score against the Eagles by shutting them out, 2-0.
Whitehead's 30th career no-hitter -- and the 11th of the season -- ended Northeast's string of consecutive state championships at four.
Last year, she gave up her only run of the season to the Eagles, but it came in a 1-0 loss in the state finals.
So what did she have on her mind going into the rematch?
"Revenge," she said. "They were our only loss last year, and we really wanted this one badly."
Northeast's last defeat in a playoff game occurred in the 1987 state finals against Damascus, when Eagles pitcher Jennifer Grinath was a sophomore. She won state titles in her junior and senior campaigns, and Kristy Zulka turned the trick the past two seasons.
Stacy Reynolds, who saw most of her time at second base last spring, tried to duplicate the feats of Grinath and Zulka, but Damascus wouldn't allow it.
The senior right-hander surrendered five hits and one earned run and struck out 11. In many ways, she was just as effective as Whitehead.
"She did a super job," Northeast coach Lynn Pitonzo said of Reynolds, who almost had to leave the game in the second inning after twisting her left knee as she released a pitch to the Hornets' Danielle Ball.
The inning proved crucial, for it presented Whitehead with the only run she needed.
Angela Shipe lined a one-out single up the middle and took second when the ball skipped past Robin Konrad. Melissa Bailey struck out swinging as pinch-runner Beth Joseph tried to steal third. With nobody covering the base, catcher Velvet Farrell's throw bounced into left field and Joseph scored.
Pitonzo described the play as "a miscommunication" between freshman third baseman Jen Johansen and sophomore shortstop Loren Bailey. Johansen normally starts at shortstop while Bailey plays first, but Pitonzo was forced to go with a makeshift infield when senior third baseman Shannon McCausey missed the game due to a prior commitment.
Damascus (17-0), which returned all but a few players from last year's team, added another run in the fourth on a walk and a two-out double by Shipe.
Not that Whitehead, who has pitched every inning of every game and still hasn't given up an earned run, needed any more help. She walked Bailey to lead off the second, but Konrad bunted into a double play. Rae Ann Dettrey, who started at first base for the Eagles, was hit by a pitch with one out in the sixth, but Whitehead struck out the next two batters.
"She keeps you off-balance with all her pitches. She's got that awesome curve," Pitonzo said of Whitehead, who struck out 14 batters to increase her career state-record total to 800. She also set a state single-season record with 227, breaking the mark of 218 by Archbishop Spalding's Kim Sheridan in 1989.
When asked if she felt like she still had something to prove to Anne Arundel County softball observers, Whitehead smiled and said,"I don't have to prove anything to anyone. I just want to win the state championship. That's been my goal for four years."
State championships have been the norm for a Northeast program that had taken seven titles in the past 10 years, but wasn't expected to get this far after graduation left the Eagles with one returning full-time starter in Reynolds.
"I think we did real well," Reynolds said. "[Pitonzo] said she would have been happy if we were 50-50 [.500]."
Instead, the Eagles went 16-4 and came within a couple of runs of returning to the states.
"We knew coming into the game that they were going to be a tough team," said Hornets coach Barb King. "They're young now, but it doesn't matter. The program's so tight."
But Northeast's grip on the 2A championship finally has loosened.