North Carroll's softball team took the Class 2A, Region I championship in machine-like fashion.
Yesterday against host and No. 7 Glenelg, the Panthers banged out 20 hits in a decisive 19-7 victory.
Unlike the Panthers' 2-1 win over the Gladiators three weeks ago, during which they had three hits, nine batters connected this time. Junior Jenny Baker led the offense with a 4-for-4 performance. Sophomores Jill Ballard and Jen Rongione totaled three hits apiece, and four batters hit twice.
The win qualifies North Carroll (13-6) for the state tournament beginning Tuesday at Randazzo Park in Glen Burnie.
"I just wanted to win. I don't care if it's one run or 10 runs," North Carroll coach Phil Bonnell said. "It's a win and we'll take it."
The loss was a first for fifth-year Glenelg coach Chuck Struhar, who admitted never experiencing a pounding such as North Carroll applied. The Panthers "hammered" the ball all game, he said, ending the Gladiators' season at 15-6.
"I've been coaching a long time and I've never seen anyone consistently hit the ball down the lineup like they did," Struhar said. "We have never, that just doesn't happen to us. They just hit the ball and hit the ball and hit the ball, and there was nothing else we could do."
North Carroll jumped on Glenelg ace starter Lyndsay Smyth -- who carried a 2.2 ERA before the game -- in the second inning. Behind 2-0, the Panthers scored 10 runs on seven hits and batted 15 players. Seven players drove in runs, and Ballard doubled home Liz Piper, Teresa Mays and Michelle Jeffery for a )) 7-2 edge.
The Gladiators committed three errors in the inning, totaling eight overall.
After North Carroll starter Kandi Lippy, who went the distance and allowed seven hits, retired the side in the bottom of the second, Struhar replaced Smyth with Kessler on the mound. The Panthers, though, were almost as relentless against the harder thrower of the two, scoring four runs on five hits for a 14-2 cushion.
Bonnell began setting in after the second inning.
"We felt good, but we still had to hang tough for five more innings," he said. "It was definitely a boost for us, and then when we came back in the third and scored four more. That was a definite boost in our confidence and it was great to be in that position."
Smyth said of North Carroll's second-inning onslaught: "They're good hitters and there was nothing I could really do. I could have thrown some changeups and varied my pitches, but I didn't know where they were in the order."
Lippy's crisp pitching also helped stymie Glenelg. From the last hitter in the first inning until the fifth inning, the right-hander retired nine of 12 batters.
"I felt great the first couple of innings," she said.
Ballard, Jeffery, Mays and Rongione are the Panthers' most consistent hitters, leaving Bonnell not surprised by their offensive showing. He also praised Baker and Kacy Rhotem (two hits), who had been slumping.
Sophomore Susan Geisler and junior Jodi Kielman led Glenelg with two hits apiece. Kielman tripled and doubled.
"We tried our best," Geisler said. "We had good defense out there, but they kept hitting."