Chesapeake College's reward for a stellar women's softball season is some well-deserved rest.
While the remainder of the NJCAA Division II Region XX field plays best-of-three play-in series this week, the Skipjacks (29-6 overall, 12-2 region) will be enjoying a four-day break from softball. Head coach Durrie Hayes is giving his players the time to "rest and heal."
"We've played so many games – 16 in 14 days after Sunday's doubleheader at Hagerstown," said Hayes. "I think mentally it's starting to show on us.
"We're going to play Montgomery Wednesday," said Hayes, referring to a 3 p.m. regular-season finale at home, "and then we're taking four days off. That's going to help us with our injuries and help us mentally, I think. We'll come back fresh next Monday or Tuesday and start all over."
While Chesapeake's most serious health issue – power-hitting shortstop Jenna Willey's knee injury, which recently ended her season – won't be improved with time off, Hayes said a lot of the other Skipjacks will benefit from the break.
"We've got a girl with an ankle, a girl with a quad, a girl with a hamstring, a couple of girls just sore from playing so much," said Hayes. "I think rest is really going to help them. A couple of girls with sore arms – that's really going to help them."
Chesapeake clinched the region's top seed with a 9-1 victory in Sunday's opener as Abby Nelson and Caroline Clarry each drove in two runs and Kristina Shank went 4-for-5. Rachael Milligan (15-2) yielded six hits over six innings while walking two and whiffing three.
Hagerstown, however, then shocked the Skipjacks, 5-4, as Kelsey Kann (3-for-4, three RBI) singled in the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Madison Bachtell spaced seven hits in a complete-game win, allowing one run over the final five frames as Hagerstown overcome an early, 2-0 deficit.
Hayes said the Hawks' home-field advantage was just that in Game 2.
"We hit six balls that would have been out at Chesapeake – some of them way out," said Hayes. "I'm not complaining, but it's hard to say we weren't hitting the ball hard."
The Hagerstown doubleheader was proof that while the Skipjacks may be the top seed, this could be anyone's tournament. Hagerstown is the lowest-seeded team in the seven-team event.
"I'd say it's wide open," Hayes said of the tournament race.
Chesapeake, which won its first undisputed Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference women's softball championship in 35 years, beat out second-seeded Potomac State College of West Virginia University (27-7, 15-3) for the top seed in part by splitting a doubleheader with the Catamounts last Friday. CCBC-Catonsville (28-17, 9-5), the College of Southern Maryland (20-17, 10-6), Cecil College (19-12, 6-8), Frederick Community College (11-22, 5-9), and Hagerstown (9-24, 4-10) are seeded third through seventh, respectively.
The Skipjacks earned guaranteed entry into the double-elimination portion of the regional tournament, which will be played May 6-8 at Hagerstown. Chesapeake will play a winners' bracket region semifinal next Friday at noon against the winner between fourth-seeded CSM and fifth-seeded Cecil as the other six teams pair up this weekend for their best-of-three play-in series.
"We play the winner of a series between a couple of teams with pretty good pitchers," Hayes said. "There's talent throughout the draw. Last year we had a couple of upsets in the first round of the tournament – you never know."
Hayes said the format for both this weekend and next week's double-elimination Final Four favors teams – like Chesapeake – with a lot of pitching depth.
"Teams with one pitcher are at a disadvantage," said Hayes, whose squad had to play three games on the final day of last year's tournament. "Pot State is in good shape – they have pitching and hitting."
In the other half of the draw, second-seeded PSC plays seventh-seeded Hagerstown and third-seeded Catonsville takes on sixth-seeded Frederick. The victors play in next Friday's 2 p.m. winners' bracket semifinal.
The winners' bracket final is next Saturday at noon, followed by a pair of losers' bracket contests. The finals are Sunday at noon with the "if" game, if necessary at 2 p.m.
The Skipjacks will be seeking their seventh region final in the last eight years, but are looking for their first region championship since 2009.