Atholton softball coach David Vitagliano said he wasn't sure what to expect going into yesterday's Class 3A, Region III state semifinal against city power Southern.
With his team suffering through a recent batting slump, and the host Bulldogs an unknown commodity, Vitagliano tried to prepare his team for the worst.
And the Raiders almost got it.
Top-seeded Southern gave the 15th-ranked Raiders all they could handle before the pitching of windmiller Kim Ruprecht won out in a 4-2 Atholton victory at LaTrobe Field in South Baltimore.
The Raiders (11-6), seeded fourth in the region, advanced to face second-seeded Centennial in tomorrow's regional final.
That's a relief to Vitagliano, who said the only thing his players knew about Southern (16-1) was what they read in the newspaper.
"About all we knew was that they were undefeated and had six kids hitting over .450," said Vitagliano. "Other than that, we really didn't have a clue."
The game was never really in doubt, though the Bulldogs sent the tying run to the plate with none out in the seventh inning.
For most of the way, however, the spotlight belonged to Raiders starter Kim Ruprecht.
Ruprecht had little trouble with the Bulldogs in the early going, allowing just two hits -- one on a bunt -- and striking out six through the first five innings.
Facing a a windmiller for only the third time in 17 games, the Bulldogs looked awkward, swinging late on most deliveries.
But Atholton struggled, as well. The slower pitches of Shawnna Taylor threw off the Raiders' timing, and they managed just one single through the first three innings.
They struck in the fourth, as Kelly Stewart hit a two-out single to score Ruprecht and make it 1-0.
The Raiders extended their lead to 3-0 in the fifth on a two-base error by catcher Kim Thomas, a sacrifice fly by Stacey Williams and an infield single by Ruprecht later in the inning that scored Amy Mina.
Williams finished off the Atholton scoring with an RBI single in the sixth.
Southern scored single runs in the sixth and seventh.
"The name of the game is to get people on base and push those runners over, and today they did it better," said Southern coach Jack Nehmsmann. "This was a very successful game for us. We're young, and I think we'll be back here again next year."