Receiving an unexpected invitation on short notice to the Anne Arundel County softball championship game, North County made the most of the opportunity yesterday at Randazzo Park.
The No. 6 Knights needed an extended stay to defeat No. 1 Chesapeake, getting the game's first three runs in the top of the ninth before junior Beth Mullins completed her pitching gem for a 3-1 victory.
Danielle Martinez, Amanda Baldwin and Lisa Papsan had run-scoring singles in the breakthrough ninth with the game played under international rules that place a runner on second at the start of each extra inning. Mullins, who took a one-hitter into the ninth, surrendered a run, but got the final two outs and left the tying run on second.
"I was quite surprised and very, very happy we got the chance to play Chesapeake, and I think the whole team will agree with me on that," Mullins said.
A regular-season game between Northeast and Southern that was not made up changed the tiebreaker, putting North County in and Severna Park out of the title game.
North County was getting team photos taken on Wednesday and expecting a light practice when it learned it made the county final for a second straight year. Last year, the Knights had to share the title with Chesapeake when the game was rained out.
This year, it's all theirs.
"This is nice since we had to share it last year and it feels real good this being my senior year," said Martinez, whose infield single drove in the first run.
Always the case when these two teams play - North County has now taken two of three this season - it came down to a couple of big plays.
Yesterday, it was a seventh-inning triple from Papsan that woke up the Knights' bats, and an even bigger play from junior first baseman Jamie Buchheit to alertly throw out a runner at third in the bottom of the eighth.
With Erin Nowicki starting the inning at second base, Meghan Hickman laid down a sacrifice bunt on the first base side that Buchheit was quickly on.
"As soon as I got the ball, I knew she was going and I was going to third with it," she said. "There wasn't a thought after I got the ball."
The Knights got out of the inning and retaliated with the decisive runs.
That was more than enough for Mullins, who retired All-Metro choices Tracey Dahlen and Brittany Owen to close out the game.
Chances are good there may be another round to come between the teams should they advance to the Class 4A East regional final. Last season, North County claimed a 4-2 win in eight innings over the Cougars to reach the state tournament and eventually won its second straight title.
"If we both can do our jobs next week," said Chesapeake coach Don Ellenberger, "we'll see each other again next Friday."