Nothing came easily for No. 1 Chesapeake in last week's region softball playoffs. The Cougars were due for a breather.
They usually find one in the state playoffs.
Lori Congdon pitched a three-hitter and Tracy Starke went 3-for-4 to lead top-seeded Chesapeake past fourth-seeded Dulaney, 5-0, in the Class 4A state semifinals at Randazzo Park.
Chesapeake (21-0), seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive 4A state championship, will meet Northern of Calvert County in Friday's 8:30 p.m. final. The Patriots defeated Quince Orchard, 6-1, in the other semifinal last night.
Congdon (13-0) struck out 14, as Chesapeake won its 40th game in a row. Her only jam came in the second, when Dulaney's Laura Jobe and Whitney McClelland singled to put runners on the corners. But Kim Jarosinski struck out on three pitches.
The 13th-ranked Lions (10-3) didn't have much trouble scoring this season. They had beaten Franklin 18-15, Randallstown 17-0, Kenwood 15-0, Parkville 12-1 and Catonsville 12-0.
But they hadn't faced a pitcher like Congdon, who effectively mixed her riser and changeup to keep the Dulaney hitters off-balance.
"We knew she was fast, but she changed speeds so well," said Lions coach Elaine Lindsay. "She was fast, medium and slow. She did a gorgeous job.
Dulaney's junior pitcher, Julie Green, was sensational in the PTC Region II playoffs. She threw a two-hitter to upset Western, 1-0, and came back the next day with a one-hitter to beat Perry Hall, 3-0. But she didn't have the same luck with Chesapeake.
Starke singled to lead off the bottom of the first. She stole second, moved to third on a passed ball and scored on a fielder's choice bouncer from Michelle Manner.
The Cougars failed to score in the second after loading the bases on singles by Congdon, Nancy Yeager and Starke. But in the third, Manner reached on an infield hit and took second on a throwing error. After Jaime Long popped out, catcher Natalie Black doubled to left for a 2-0 lead.
Green, a junior left-hander who pitches for Wagner's summer league team, retired eight in a row before allowing three runs in the sixth.
Black and Congdon singled, and a fielder's choice grounder from Michele Singer brought home pinch-runner Melissa Wagner. Yeager grounded out to score pinch-runner Tami Barrington, and Starke plated Singer with a single.
"It didn't take us too long to put the game down," said coach Dennis Thiele, whose team defeated Arundel, 3-0, and Severna Park, 1-0, in the Region IV playoffs. "We just needed that one run."
The Cougars also needed -- and got -- a lift from their leadoff batter. "I just decided this was my last everything in high school," said Starke. "I focused on what I wanted to do."