As much as it was a story of an upset, Thursday’s Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A conference semifinal showdown between top-ranked Mount de Sales and fourth-ranked John Carroll was a microcosm of the Patriots’ streaky season.
They started slow, but they didn’t give up, earning an 8-6 victory over the Sailors and a trip to Saturday’s championship game.
“I think at one point we were 0-2 in the conference, had a couple wins and lots of losses,” John Carroll coach Sherry Hudson said. “The girls didn’t get down, they stayed up and learned from their mistakes. They’re a good hitting team and when we play as a team, we’re good to go.”
The Patriots struck against the Sailors midway through and then endured a rally to earn their berth to the IAAM A final.
John Carroll (9-8) will take on No. 3 Archbishop Spalding on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore.
Starting pitcher Emma Kropkowski returns to familiar ground, one that she’s missed for too long. After claiming the crown from the mound as a sophomore, the senior lost her chance to repeat after breaking her arm in a scrimmage last season. The Patriots went on to fall in the semifinals.
But not this time.
“Emma, she’s got it the rest of the way,” Hudson said. “It’s in her hands.”
Every time first baseman Brianna Botkin entered the batters’ box, she threatened to send someone home. So drove in five on three singles.
“[She] stepped up,” Hudson said. “They walked Emma Ritter two, three times today. Bri came through. That’s what a good hitter does.”
The Patriots took time warming up their bats, thanks to Sailors freshman Cheyenne Beayon’s six strikeouts, only breaking onto the scoreboard in the top of the fourth. Ritter slid into first, narrowly avoiding the tag, and scored when Botkin belted her in.
Meanwhile, Kropkowski and her defense extinguished any fires Mount de Sales (12-7) tried to set. The Patriots hurler allowed just four hits in six innings.
“No disrespect, the pitching’s too slow,” Sailors coach Kenny Magersupp said. “Our girls are tuned up to hit higher speeds. Took too long to make the adjustments.”
But as the Sailors struggled to put runners across the plate, John Carroll was just getting going.
In the top of the sixth, Botkin roped a single to right field, scoring Ritter and courtesy runner Sophia Sotirakos. Freshman Gabrielle Meyer followed suit, lashing a hard grounder and averting the third out thanks to a fielding error. As she stepped to first, her teammate Courtney Hartman reached home.
Mount de Sales was used to being down and four runs was hardly their worst jam. Multiple times this season, the Sailors fell into 8-1, 11-2 deficits only to sail away with the win.
“All year long, we’ve allowed too many runs early and have had to come back every game,” Magersupp said. “I told them today, in pre-game, ‘You cannot let them get ahead.’ They let them get ahead.
“You can only go to the well so many times.”
In the bottom side, Beayon cracked a double all the way to center, leaving shortstop Laurna Heathcott plenty of time to round third and eat up another sixty yards.
With a run on the board and no outs, the Sailors had a chance to do what they’d always done before. But right then, Kropkowski and the Patriots avoided disaster, turning three-straight outs.
“We’re all strong leaders,” Botkin said. “We can push through anything, through all the ups and downs.”
Three runs was enough to win a ballgame, but John Carroll kept scoring. It started with Sarah Spaeth, who hit a two-run double to left. Botkin, of course, kept things rolling, hitting her sweet spot in center again to score another two.
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“Just go all out,” Botkin said. “Play for each other, most importantly.”
With just three outs until the end of its season, Mount de Sales wasted no time mounting a comeback in the bottom of the seventh. Maddie Heathcott hit a double on her first pitch-seen of the game, followed by Sophia Ameur, who waited for the sixth pitch to knock in another run.
Kropkowski allowed runners on third base twice, but only once did she have to regret it. Julie Rowe (3 for 4) plated the Sailors’ sixth run on a fly-ball double, but on the latter situation, she fed Maddie Heathcott a grounder, which Hartman scooped up and flicked to Botkin for the final out of Mount de Sales’ spring.
With Spalding in John Carroll’s sights, Hudson and her Patriots face them with little fear. In both contests, the Patriots lost, but in their last tilt, it was by a run.