Ace trumps all
Sisolak pitches Catonsville to first state title with dominant performance over North County
For a moment, Sammi Sisolak couldn’t believe she’d done it. Her Catonsville teammates flooded around her, celebrating a feat no other Comet softball player had accomplished.
Then, she reminded herself that she was built for this moment. This is what she worked hard, rising from junior varsity to this exact moment Friday.
The Catonsville ace pitched her way to the first Comets softball state title in program history, as they took down previously undefeated North County 1-0 in the Class 4A championship game at Bachman Sports Complex.
Along with a nice, big wood trophy, Catonsville (13-1) collected its fourth straight shutout victory. Right fielder Caelyn Voss brought in the lone run in the second inning.
“I can’t wait for what’s next,” Sisolak said. “Because this was so great.”
For years Catonsville watched from the outside as other Baltimore County teams like Lansdowne and Towson enjoyed the spotlight. It put a chip on the team’s shoulder, first-year coach Paul Harris said, that brought them to this moment.
Though Catonsville loses its ace pitcher to graduation, the Comets have every intention to keep the top spot they just earned.
“I coached a lot of these kids as freshmen through up to varsity. It’s good to see them show all of Maryland that they belong up here,” said Harris, who coached JV for two years before taking the helm on varsity.
North County coach Kelly Guarnieri knows
her players felt the pressure of the huge crowd, the do-or-die moment, and that maybe it rattled their bats. They wanted to hit the ball “so bad,” the coach said, but Sisolak fanned 11 of them,
and gave up only three hits.
Ultimately, that’s not what mattered most to Guarnieri as she bid goodbye to seven seniors.
“We constantly were coming in as the underdogs and proving that we were the better team. I couldn’t be more proud of each and every one of these girls,” she said. “This opportunity is once in a lifetime. Even though we couldn’t come out on top today, we still played in the state championship.”
Harris and the Comets did their homework on the Knights, watching game footage and making sense of what they knew, as some of the Catonsville kids play travel ball with players on North County (16-1).
“We knew how we wanted to attack a lot of the hitters,” Harris said. “Going into that we already had a game plan. To see my pitcher and catcher execute that game plan to almost perfection was a beautiful thing to watch.”
Two equally-matched figures in the circle suppressed a potentially higher-scoring game. Breanna Clayton, who tossed everything from a perfect game to a two-hitter this season, matched her true form with 12 strikeouts, two walks and two hits allowed.
But for everything Clayton did, Sisolak kept pace a half-inning later. Just as Clayton did, the Catonsville pitcher fanned even the most dangerous North County hitters.
“Watching her through the playoffs, she hasn’t given up a run. She’s done an awesome job and this is her show,” Harris said. “This is what she wanted to do.”
Some pitchers play their whole high school careers on varsity. Sisolak worked her way to it. She won a JV championship with Harris when they both played and coached together in 2018. The next year, she moved up. This year, Harris followed.
Sisolak took her final game seriously: she took off from work, loaded up on pasta and slept in.
“It worked out,” she said. “I threw my best.”
Clayton got the two Catonsville batters out on strikes in the second inning before Caelyn Voss stepped to the plate.. If North County got her, it didn’t matter there was a Comet on second base.
When Voss laid down a bunt, North County seemed to hesitate for a moment. That hesitation cost the Knights the first run.
Voss bolted towards first as soon as the ball left her bat. While the Knights worked to chase her down, center fielder Abby Mitchell sprinted home in time to give Catonsville the 1-0 advantage.
It’d be their last run, of course.
“We have the best defensive team I think I’ve ever seen and we have the best pitcher that I’ve seen,” Guarnieri said. “I’ve said all year the only team that could beat us is ourselves.”
One run should’ve been easy to overcome
for North County, the team that’d just beat 2019 state champion Sherwood in the semifinal by responding to the Warriors’ run with two in its next inning. After all, North County was averaging more than eight runs per game.
Sisolak flummoxed the Knights, and when she didn’t take them down herself, her fielders did, save for a couple singles by Emma Sullivan. Many North County hits expired due to athletic catches from Catonsville fielders. Harris prepared his team for that, increasing pressure on them during the practice before the final.
It’s a lesson they learned the hard way in
the Comets’ one loss to Towson this spring. Afterwards, they sat down and talked about how they wanted to move forward.
“We turned it to a ‘we’re here to pick everyone up’ mentality,” Harris said. “Make a mistake, it’s gonna happen, mistakes are OK.”
Nothing North County did seemed to work, even in the bottom of the seventh inning. Momentum slid into their court for a time, as Becca Gottleib reached first base on a throwing error and Courtney Leisner moved her over to third.
It didn’t bother Catonsville. Mistakes, like its coach said, are OK.
“I just knew I had to bear down, shake off
those errors,” Sisolak said, “… just throw my game.”
When Clayton bunted a strike back to the pitcher, Sisolak made the smart play and threw home ahead of Gottleib, who was tagged out for the second out. Gottleib lied on her back on home plate for a moment, staring upward, as dust fogged around her.
Though Leisner loomed from third, Sisolak faced down what would be her final batter, Joey Sears, without fear. She did what she’d done all game and got the strikeout.
“I’ve heard of a lot of these girls and they’re good ball players. It feels really good to strike them out,” Sisolak said. “Win against them.”