Indians capture 2A East Region Championship
Top Parkside 5-4 to advance to state semifinals
— Kim Evans last guided the North East softball team to the state championship game in 2007.
Nine years later, the 11-year head coach is on the verge of once again returning to that stage.
Junior catcher Kaitlyn Stewart launched a gametying, two-run double to deep center before crossing the plate herself to cap a threerun fifth-inning and help deliver the Indians to the 2A state semifinals with a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over visiting Parkside in the 2A East Region Championship on Friday.
“It’s been a while. It’s very exciting. I haven’t slept all week, I haven’t eaten all week. It’s big for these girls,” Evans said. “They worked hard and they’re proving it to themselves and that’s what’s important. We’ve had a heck of a year.”
Trailing 4-2 in the fifth inning, freshman Molly Dill drew a one-out walk and freshman Morgan Sargent singled to third base to put runners on first and second for Stewart, who followed with a bases-clearing double in the gap. Two batters later, senior Olivia Martin delivered a go-ahead RBI single to right field to score Stewart.
The rally followed a difficult fourth frame for North East (18-2), which saw the Rams erase a two-run deficit with a four-run inning, including plating a pair of runs with two outs.
“The intensity level was a little down after that [fourth inning] but these girls fought,” Evans said. The Indians captured their first region crown since 2007. They remain in contention for their first state championship since 2003.
“It’s great. I don’t have the words for it,” said Stewart, who finished 2 for 2 with a walk and three RBI. “We worked as a team, we talked and we all had the energy and intensity in us. The bats kind of came alive today a little bit and the defense was great.”
Stewart’s big day at the plate continued a strong postseason for the catcher, who now has five RBI and five runs scored in three playoff contests.
“She came up huge today,” Evans said. “It’s good to see her stepping up.”
Dill, who entered in relief of Sargent to begin the fifth inning, tossed three scoreless frames to earn the win.
It marked the third consecutive playoff game that Sargent, another freshman, handed the ball off to Dill midway through the contest.
“You have two ninth graders out there who have never been this far into the scene and they both stepped up,” Evans said. “Morgan … has no reaction. There’s no emotion. She just listens to Stewie [Stewart] and throws what she’s got. Same thing with Molly. I know they’re cousins, but those two work together so well. They have so much trust in Stewie to call the game, hit their spots and get it done.”
Dill faced the top of the Parkside order in the top of the seventh inning. She allowed a two-out single to the three-hole hitter and pitcher Maggie Cannon, before forcing cleanup hitter Taylor Nichols to ground out to the third baseman.
“I expect to come in almost every game. My coaches tell me to be ready,” Dill said. “This time I tried to focus on being ready for anything, coming in and doing my job.”
Dill kept the Rams offbalanced by switching between an above-average fastball and a changeup.
“The changeup, that’s a pitch that we usually use when we’re ahead in the count. It’s just so different from anything else that I think people see normally. It automatically throws them off no matter where it is. It can be in the dirt or high, it’s just something a little bit different and it’s something I work on a lot,” Dill said.
After coasting through the first three innings, Sargent ran into trouble in the fourth when she allowed a one-out triple to Cannon, who scored one batter later on a single by Nichols. Kara Downs then followed with a single and Tori Barmoy reached on an error to load the bases.
After inducing a pop out to the catcher, Sargent allowed Parkside to tie when she walked Carmen Swaf- ford. Hope Clarke then delivered a single to right field to give the Rams the lead.
“Of course it’s disappointing but we’re young and we battled. I was very proud of them. We didn’t give them the game, they earned it,” Parkside coach Paul Simon said. “We got down early and we battled in the midsection of the game. It was a good softball game and you can’t hang your head after a good softball game.”
The Indians wasted no time taking the lead in the bottom of the first inning when Sargent drew a oneout walk and Stewart followed with an RBI triple to right. The catcher then scored one batter later on Jess Choplinsky’s ground out to shortstop.
“[The first inning] set the tone. It proved that we can hit [Cannon],” Evans said. “I think they were a little nervous coming in. She’s a good pitcher, she throws the ball hard, harder than what we’ve seen all year so far. We worked hard for it yesterday, we prepared for it, so getting those hits early was big.”
North East will face West champion Catoctin in the state semifinals at Bachman Park in Glen Burnie on Tuesday.
Follow Jordan Schatz on Twitter: @Jordan_Whig
North East junior catcher Kaitlyn Stewart slides into third base during the fifth inning of her team’s 5-4 victory over visiting Parkside in the 2A East Region Softball Final on Friday.