HAGERSTOWN –Chesapeake College has been a recent fixture in the NJCAA Division II Region XX women's softball finals. When this year's finals rolled around, however, the top-seeded Skipjacks were conspicuous by their absence.
Defending champion Potomac State College of West Virginia University beat the Skipjacks, 3-2, on Beth Cook's eighth-inning homer in Sunday's winners' bracket final. Third-seeded College of Southern Maryland then hung another 3-2 loss on Chesapeake in the losers' bracket final to bring a sudden end to the Skipjacks' season.
PSC's Danica Rogers threw a four-hitter with seven strikeouts and six walks to send Chesapeake to the losers' bracket. CSM's Lori Sturgill then blanked the Skipjacks on one hit until the seventh, when Chesapeake scored twice and put the tying run on base before Sturgill squelched the rally.
"You've got to give credit where credit is due and they just shut us down," Chesapeake head coach Durrie Hayes said of Rogers and Sturgill.
The Skipjacks (32-8) didn't hit much better on Saturday, but Rachael Milligan's 1-0 shutout over CSM propelled Chesapeake into Sunday's winners' bracket final against second-seeded Potomac State. The lack of hitting, however, finally caught up to the Skipjacks, who finished the tournament with just 10 hits.
"They played well all year and they're a really good group of young ladies," Hayes said of his team, which won the program's first undisputed state title since 1981. "They hustled and they got along. Even in the end, they scored two runs in the last inning. There was no 'give-up' in them."
The Skipjacks compensated so well after a season-ending injury to standout shortstop Jenna Willey, claiming the state title despite losing one of their best offensive players. Willey, however, would have been a welcome presence in the middle of that order this weekend after hitting .429 with 22 RBI in just 17 games.
In Sunday's first game, Josie Clark gave the Catamounts a 1-0 lead with a second-inning homer off Milligan and broke a 1-1 tie with a sixth-inning RBI double. Chesapeake, however, twice fought back to tie the game.
Abby Nelson started a game-tying rally in the third with a two-out single and Tori Hughes followed with a double that should have left Nelson on third. The alert Nelson, however, scooted home to create a 1-1 tie as the Catamounts failed to cover the plate.
While Clark's sixth-inning double put Potomac State back in front, the lead lasted only until Chesapeake's next turn at the plate. Hughes singled with one out in the home sixth, took second on a walk to Savannah Miller, and scored when Brittney Platt's grounder went right through shortstop Clark's legs.
The game stayed 2-2 until Cook (3-for-3) homered in the eighth off Milligan, who pitched well overall while spacing eight hits and a walk with five strikeouts.
"Rachael pitched a real nice game," said Hayes. "You hold them to two runs in regulation, you need to be winning that game. We scored five runs off their pitcher [Rogers] the last time we played them – but not this time. She throws well; she throws the ball hard."
Hughes finished with two of Chesapeake's four hits.
Jasmyn Berry's two-run, fourth-inning homer off Game 2 starter Kara Wood staked CSM to a 2-0 lead. The Hawks made it 3-0 in the fifth on Alexsia Banks' RBI groundout, which proved to be the winning run after Chesapeake rallied in the seventh to make things interesting.
Sturgill started the seventh with a leadoff walk to Nelson before Hughes – who was the Skipjacks' offensive bright spot with four tournament hits – doubled Nelson home. After Miller (two hits) singled Hughes to third, Platt grounded into a fielder's choice that scored Hughes to get Chesapeake within 3-2.
Wood yielded three runs on three hits with two strikeouts and no walks in four-plus innings. Chloe Day blanked the Hawks on three hits over the final three frames with two strikeouts and one intentional walk.
"Kara pitched well; she just hung one and the girl [Berry] hit it out," said Hayes. "Even with that, we just didn't hit. You've got to score some runs."
While the tournament loss stung, Hayes noted that "we're very proud of them."
"That's the third time in four years we've broken 30 wins," said Hayes. "I can remember years we couldn't break 20 wins. And we ended up ranked 17th in the nation, which is the fourth straight year we've finished the season ranked."
Since winning the region crown in 2009 – Hayes' second season as head coach – Chesapeake has been region runner-up five times and finished third twice. While that is the sign of a consistent winner, Hayes noted the program is looking for just a bit more.
"We'd like to think the program is headed in the right direction," said Hayes. "We just have to get over that hump."