At tryouts, Don Ellenberger wasn’t sure what his Chesapeake-AA softball team would become.
With as many seniors as freshmen (three) and a wealth of underclassmen, the Cougars could have been a team biding its time, rebuilding for a year when experienced players could drive the squad to the state tournament.
But they didn’t wait that long. Instead, Ellenberger pulled this green group together and piloted them all the way to the Class 3A state final.
“They're so young that even a lot of the tough stuff and pressure didn't get to them. Every once in a while, you'd have a mistake here and there but it never ate them up,” Ellenberger said. “We would let it go quickly. We didn't carry it on for innings, and games even. We had a little mantra that just said ‘no matter who's across the way, you're next.’ ”
Chesapeake finished the season ranked No. 2 by The Baltimore Sun with a 20-4 record, splitting its losses between in- and out-of-county opponents. While Northeast-AA and North County got the better of the Cougars late in the season, Chesapeake’s only other defeats were to eventual Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference champion and No. 1 Archbishop Spalding (10-5) and 3A state champion Huntingtown.
The Cougars swept their two toughest opponents in Anne Arundel County, No. 4 Glen Burnie (4A state finalist) and No. 8 Severna Park.
These past four years, Ellenberger guided his most illustrious pitcher since United States national team member Lauren Gibson. Haley Downin broke 10 Chesapeake hitting records and three pitching records, eight of which belonged to Gibson.