Kandi Lippy threw strikes, her North Carroll teammates made all the big plays behind her, and the Panthers manufactured three runs on only one hit in the fourth inning.
That combination was enough to give fourth-seeded North Carroll a 4-0 victory over host and top-seeded South Hagerstown yesterday in a semifinal game in the state Class 2A, Region I softball tournament.
The Panthers (12-6) will go after a fifth straight regional championship today when they meet Glenelg, an 8-3 winner over Southern of Garrett, for the 2A, Region I title. North Carroll has won two state championships in the past three years.
Lippy, a sophomore, was superb against the Rebels, who entered with a 17-1 record and the Monocacy Valley League title. She walked one, struck out three and allowed four hits en route to the shutout.
"This was one of the best games I've pitched all season," said Lippy. "It feels great to beat a good team like South Hagerstown. I had my control and the team is playing well again after a little midseason slump."
North Carroll coach Phil Bonnell said: "We asked Kandi to throw strikes and she did. We're getting a little better with each game we play because we're gaining some experience. We're a young team."
Lippy was helped immensely by defensive plays by left fielder Jill Ballard and third baseman Jenny Rongione and a strong defensive game at first base by Michele Jeffery.
Ballard got a good jump on a fly ball to deep left by South Hagerstown's Kristen Glines in the sixth inning and made the catch, and Rongione ranged far to her left in the seventh inning to pick up a ground ball and throw out Karen Michaels for the final out of the game.
Jeffery made a number of outstanding putouts at first base on low throws from the Panthers' infielders.
In the three-run fourth inning that broke up a pitchers' duel between Lippy and South Hagerstown's hard-throwing Jessica Shuda, North Carroll executed all the fundamentals.
The winners got a perfect bunt single from Theresa Mays to move Jeffery from first to third, where she scored on an error by Shuda for the game's first run.
Mays also contributed some heads-up running, going from first to third when Shuda failed to field Liz Piper's grounder to the mound. Mays then scored the second run on Lippy's groundout to short.
Piper scored the third run on Rongione's groundout after stealing second and moving to third on Lippy's groundout, and the final run scored on a triple by Jeffery in the fifth inning.
South Hagerstown coach John Lynch admired North Carroll's performance.
"They have an outstanding program and know what they have to do in tournaments," said Lynch. "They play a lot of 3A and 4A teams in their area and we usually play 2A and 1A schools. That's not an excuse, but I'm sure it helps them."