With her top-ranked team trailing No. 6 Seton Keough by a run in the top of the fifth inning yesterday, Archbishop Spalding coach Linda Taylor pulled junior first baseman Tine Ryals aside to try to break the tension.
Taylor succeeded and Ryals responded by breaking the game open. With two outs, the junior hit Kristin Dulay's 1-1 delivery down the left-field line for a three-run, game-winning double.
The hit sparked the Cavaliers (9-0), who scored seven more unanswered runs and turned a close game into a 10-1 victory against host Seton Keough (7-4) in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Division.
So what did Taylor say to make Ryals feel more at ease?
"Her older sister [then-senior Sabrina] was in the same situation in the [Maryland Private Schools] state championship game last year," Taylor said. "I had given her a speech about coming through and being the hero. So, today I started to give Tine the same one, and she knew the whole thing, so she was laughing. It took the pressure off a little bit."
Unfortunately for the Gators, Spalding pitcher Jessica Saunders kept the pressure on.
The sophomore pitcher struck out 12 and allowed just one hit -- a "normal day at the office," Taylor called it -- to improve to 7-0.
"She is so tough," Keough athletic director and interim coach Jim Stromberg said. "You have to get to her early, and we didn't."
Saunders, who went 3-for-3 with an RBI at the plate, had plenty of help in the field. The biggest play was right fielder Amanda Collins' fully extended diving catch that ended the game.
It was Keough's defense, however, that kept the game close through the first four innings by stranding seven Spalding base runners.
In the top of the second, Gators center fielder Shannon Smith threw a strike to catcher Dany Goode to nab Becky Moody at the plate. In the top of the fourth, with the bases loaded, Dulay struck out Megan Cowen to end the inning. Goode scored on a passed ball in the fourth to put the Gators up 1-0.
But Saunders struck out Keough's Katie Purper to strand two runners and end the inning. Then, with Ryals' hit in the fifth, the floodgates opened. Saunders drove home Ryals for a 4-1 advantage after five innings, and Keri Lounge, Christina Sheridan and Kristen Marll drove in runs during the next two innings.