It was an unusual ending, but Severna Park softball’s had an unusual season.
After an up-and-down regular season, the Falcons have hit their stride when it counts the most. They slipped through Class 4A to become the last Anne Arundel County team standing, the last ones to stream from the dugout with screams and tears on Wednesday night.
Though South River seemed to be on a fast track to roll past Severna Park after two innings of the state semifinals, the Falcons rallied and battled through nine innings to upset the Seahawks, 13-12, at Bachman Sports Complex.
“We knew we could do it,” pitcher Christina Ballagh said. “We just had to figure out the right way to do it.”
The Falcons advance to face Sherwood in the state final at the University of Maryland on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The last time Severna Park made it this far, in 2018, it returned to Anne Arundel County as state champions.
This time, the Falcons didn’t do it with a once-in-a-lifetime star like Campbell Kline — they did it with sheer will. They took their licks against the county’s top teams, including South River, and converted that frustration into fuel.
“They had to earn it the hard way,” coach Meredith McAlister said.
After South River scored five runs in two innings against the Falcons on Wednesday, Severna Park bounced back and forth with the Seahawks until the ninth inning. Severna Park scored its international tiebreaker rules base runner on its side. Then, South River placed Sarah Brookman as its ninth-inning runner.
That proved to be a crushing and ultimately fatal mistake.
Per ITB rules, it is the last batted out — not recorded out — that is to be the runner put on base in extra innings. While Brookman was tagged out — caught at home plate — to end the eighth, technically Hannah Grambo, the inning’s final batter was meant to be the Seahawks’ automatic runner in the ninth.
Two pitches were thrown before it was called by the umpires; Brookman was ruled out due to the illegal substitution, which can only be ruled once a pitch is thrown. South River suddenly had its first out and no base runners. Soon, it would be three outs.
“It’s not the way you want to win a game,” McAlister said.
Seahawks coach Tim Williams absorbed the blow of the mistake but had hoped it wouldn’t cost them the win. He believed in his girls.
“I have so much confidence in this team, I thought, especially with who was coming up,” Williams said. “We’ve worked magic many times before. So, disappointed in how that worked out.”
McAlister knows this bitter feeling well. On April 1, she placed the wrong ITB runner on against Arundel, costing her Falcons the game. It set Severna Park on a losing streak.
“To lose a game that way, I felt like I owed them one,” McAlister said of her team. “It’s nice to get a little karma back. I’ll take this time after learning earlier.”
Severna Park lost to South River twice this spring, including a demoralizing defeat in which the Falcons surrendered two grand slams. But every coach knows it’s hard to beat a team three times.
“We knew they were a beatable team,” Ballagh said. “And when we watched film this week, we knew what their weaknesses were and what we needed to do to get it done.”
The Falcons proved how much they’d learned when they dropped five runs in the third and five runs in the sixth.
But early, the Falcons weren’t doing themselves any favors.
Severna Park recorded three errors before a single run. In that time, South River sped off to a 5-0 lead. But things turned in the third inning.
A bunt by nine-hitter Alex Weaver brought home the first run. But it was sophomore catcher Sally Trent (3-for-5) who set the tone, driving in two on the first pitch she took to get within 5-3.
“We knew we could make contact with the pitcher,” Ballagh said. “And we knew when we came back through the lineup, we could make hits.”
In quick succession, Livi Driver and Addison Bianco drove in the tying runs.
“Didn’t really come up strong for her in the first couple innings,” McAlister said. “But once you start fighting back and putting some runs on the board, it kinda like starts to get tighter and starts to refocus everybody.”
It refocused South River, too.
In the fourth, CJ Harris struck a hard line drive through to center field for a go-ahead run. Courtney Little sent another shot to center that made it 7-5. But Bianco drove in another run for Severna Park in the top of the fifth. Harris answered with another RBI in the bottom of the fifth for an 8-6 Seahawks lead.
But the Falcons exploded, racking up six base runners — as well as a 9-8 lead — before South River recorded its first out. Not satisfied with a one-run lead, Bianco brought in another two, reaching on an overthrow at first base that would’ve otherwise ended the inning.
“It was only a matter of time, once we started making good contact, that we’d start squeaking through them,” Bianco said. “And we would get the balls in play that we needed.”
With an 11-8 Severna Park lead, it would take until South River’s back was against the wall — down two outs in the bottom of the seventh — for things to get interesting again. Sara Blades brought home the tying run and forced extras.
Determination is what got South River here. The Seahawks began the season 3-2 and even said they did not expect this at the start of the season.
South River made history by appearing in its first county championship this month. This was its first state semifinal appearance since 1994, and had it won, it would have been its first state championship berth since 1986.
“We just talked about what good people they are,” Williams said. “Even though we have six seniors and the rest of them are underclassmen, they came together. I think that speaks volumes for both sides and [the future].”