Jones gets championship
Eagles need just 1 run to win SMAC softball title
North Point head coach Tony Jones has had a stellar 29-year career and on Tuesday he finally claimed an award that had eluded him all this time when the visiting Eagles defeated Leonardtown 1-0 to win the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference softball championship.
The Eagles (13-4 overall), the SMAC Potomac Division champion, scored the only run of the game in the fourth inning and Brianna Baker allowed five hits and struck out two in handing the Raiders their first loss of the season.
Jones, who had previously enjoyed immense success as head coach at La Plata, had made two state appearances with the Warriors along with numerous regional championships. He’s also been named SMAC coach of the year four times, but had never won a conference championship.
“We’ve been working hard all year to get to this,” said an emotional Jones as he stood in right field as his players whooped it up. “We finally knew we had a team that was capable of making a run and we knew what we were up against. [Leonardtown head coach Kim Schrader’s] got a great team, she really does. To come down here and beat them at
their house is a large feat but hey, they stepped up and did it.”
“I’m so proud of my team and I’m glad I was able to help,” Baker said. “I took one in the ankle [in the sixth inning], but I was going to do whatever it took to bring [the title] back home to North Point.”
The Raiders (19-1), who won the SMAC Chesapeake Division championship with a perfect 12-0 record, had runners on base in six of the seven innings and had the bases loaded in the fourth but were unable to score.
“We definitely had our chances,” Schrader said. “We had bases loaded and we didn’t score. We didn’t put hits together, which we’ve been doing. We had five hits and that’s not typical of my girls. It’s just not. It takes more than pitching and making the plays. You’ve got to offensively get in there and do it, and we didn’t do that today.”
“It’s not our best performance, obviously,” Leonardtown senior pitcher Kaitlyn Beasley-Polko said. “We didn’t hit, which was the main thing. We couldn’t string hits together.”
North Point’s Katie Delph led off the fourth inning with a single to left field and took second when the ball bounced under the outfielder’s glove. She went to third on a passed ball and scored when Gabby Cross reached on an error.
“I just wanted to put it in play and then run my fastest,” said Delph, a sophomore.
“It was comforting to know we were ahead, but you never get too comfortable because that’s when you start letting runs slip away,” Baker said. “But it was nice to have it in the back of my mind that, ‘Hey, we might win this if this [score] stays the same.’”
Leonardtown had its best chance in the bottom of the inning when it loaded the bases on a Laila Brooks double, a walk to Tori Bowles and an infield hit by Lyndsey Riti. But Louisa Traver flied out to right to end the inning.
“Yes [we’ve been hitting all year], but they’ve kind of been slacking the last couple of games,” Schrader said. “Today, absolutely it was an unpleasant wakeup call.”
There were some anxious moments for North Point in the sixth when Baker was drilled on the right ankle, the same ankle she had an injury with during the season that caused her to miss three weeks. But after some warmup pitches, the senior remained in the game.
“As soon as she got hit we were worried,” Jones said, “but she’s tough.”
Riti led off the seventh with a single, went to second on Traver’s sacrifice bunt and reached third on a wild pitch. But Ericka Wickline grounded back to Baker, who checked Riti before throwing to first, and Lindsey Wood popped out to shortstop to end the game.
“We just wanted to play solid defense,” said Jones, who is starting freshmen at shortstop and in left field. “We told them, ‘Just worry about your position play and your job and it’ll come come together’ and it did. You have to make a play [on defense] and we made a bunch of them.”
“Whenever the defense got the chance with the ball they made the play and I’m really proud of them for staying with it because against a good team like this, you can’t give them anything,” Baker said.
Baker also walked two and retired eight of the last nine batters she faced.
“My strategy was just to mix it up and keep them on their toes because if you throw the same pitches over and over again, they get comfortable,” she said.
“I have to give it to my pitcher today,” Jones said. “She went after them and wanted to give them stuff to lay off of so they couldn’t tee off on her.”
The loss spoiled a stellar outing for Beasley-Polko, who struck out 16, including the first nine batters she faced. The senior also walked one and allowed only a bunt single, infield hit and a walk following the fourth.
“I was on the whole time,” Beasley-Polko said. “It was just a matter of them putting balls in play and us not making the plays we needed to get them out.”
“She’s a phenomenal pitcher, but we just tried to find a way to get it in play and do something and stretch out a run,” Jones said. “We wanted to go through [the lineup] one time and see the pitches and hopefully at least get some hits or at least put the bat on the ball and make them play defense. We decided to go the other route and play the short game, and one ball bounces one way and here it is 1-0.”
Just four years ago, North Point was 3-13 with Baker, then a freshman, throwing 15 mile per hour pitches across the plate.
“In four years we’ve come from that to this,” Jones said. “It’s emotional for me.”
“I’m just really proud of my team overall,” Delph said. “Just being with them for two years now and working hard on everything and from where we came from means a lot.”
Leonardtown is the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A East Region Section II playoffs and will host a section semifinal contest versus the winner of Broadneck-South River on Monday. North Point is the No. 2 seed and will host Annapolis or Chopticon (the No. 3 seed) in a section semifinal game on Monday. If the Raiders and Eagles get by their section semifinal opponents, they’ll meet again Wednesday back at Leonardtown with a trip to the region final on the line.
“We just move on, work on stuff in practice and learn from our mistakes,” Beasley-Polko said.
“They went 19-0 the entire season and everyone’s gunning for you because you have that [record],” Schrader said. “We’re going to move on. We’re going to do what we need to do and work on what needs work and be ready for Monday.”
The North Point Eagles celebrate following their 1-0 win over Leonardtown in the SMAC championship game on Tuesday.