Despite having already clinched a berth in next week’s Anne Arundel County championship game, the No. 3 Chesapeake softball team felt it had some unfinished business left against neighborhood rival Northeast on Wednesday.
A four-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning took care of it.
After the visiting Eagles scored the go-ahead run in the top of the inning, the Cougars proved poised and resourceful in pounding out three hits on their way to a 6-3 win.
Chesapeake (15-2, 14-1 Anne Arundel) avenged its only league loss. Northeast (10-5) also ended the Cougars past two postseasons in the region playoffs and the teams expect to see each other there again.
Senior pitcher Haley Downin, who singled three times, scored the winning run and turned a nice catch into a double play to help close the win in the seventh, said this game meant more than most with the playoffs ahead. The Cougars close the regular season against North County and then will meet either Severna Park or Glen Burnie in the county title game Tuesday at Bachman Sports Complex.
“Since they’re our rivals, it’s a really big thing to beat them,” Downin said. “And also, since we lost to them the first time, it’s good knowing going into the playoffs that we can beat them because we tend to see them most of the time.”
Tied at 2 since the third inning, Northeast broke through with good execution in the top of the sixth to go up, 3-2.
Makayla Balanger led off with a sharp single to left field and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Tori Bache. Alyssa Jacobs, batting ninth in the order, drove in Balanger with a double to the gap in right-center field.
But Downin, who worked her way out of a number of jams, got Maddie Schelfe to fly out and then struck out Kaitlyn Bayne.
Chesapeake coach Don Ellenberger told his Cougars they had come from behind late in games and could do it again. They responded impressively.
Northeast pitcher Cecilia Swarthout, who got the win against the Cougars on April 1, opened the inning by hitting Kexin Wang with a pitch. After Downin’s single moved Wang to third, she tied the game when Tristyn Stewart slapped a single between first and second. Downin came across with the winning run on a sacrifice fly by Jerzie Nutile. After Stewart scored on a wild pitch to make it 5-3, the Cougars added one more when Sophia Bianco walked with two outs and came home on a double from Norah Hart.
“I think we all always believe because we believe in each other,” Downin said. “When we get up to the plate, we know everyone is capable of doing really great things. So just having that belief and hope can bring you back in a game even when you’re down.”
Stewart, who had two singles and was in the middle of the pivotal inning, accomplished her goal with the key at-bat.
“Coach Don’s method is: ‘See ball, hit ball’ and I just went up there and said I have to put this ball in play. No matter what I do, no matter what happens, I’ve got to hit the ball and that’s what I went up there and did,” she said.
The Eagles had their own idea of late-inning success in a bid to answer in the top of the seventh, but Downin wouldn’t have it. After Kiersten Tomshack led off with a double, Mallorie Hetzel hit a sharp liner back to Downin, who snared it and threw to second for the double play. She got Heather Barlage on an infield pop to end the game.
Northeast coach Joe Hart liked how his team battled, but looked back to the start of the sixth inning as the difference.
“You hit that first batter, you put that runner on and you put pressure on yourself. That first out is the biggest out of the inning,” he said. “We battled and if it does nothing for them, it should give them confidence going into the playoffs. So I think we’ll see them again and I think it’ll be a good game.”