Braves move on in regional softball playoffs
Burch, Nelson, Kollar power Chopticon softball into 3A South section final
Chopticon took another step forward in the postseason thanks in large part to Caitlyn Burch, Maria Kollar and Allie Nelson who shined in a 5-2 win over visiting Northern in a Class 3A South Region Section II semifinal matchup on Monday.
The second-seeded Braves (18-3 overall) will face top-seeded Huntingtown in the Section II championship game this afternoon. A time was not known at press time. The Hurricanes defeated fourth-seeded St. Charles 10-0 on Monday.
“I’m real proud of how hard they played,” Chopticon head coach Kevin Cioppa said. “They played together as a team and everybody did their little part to make this win happen. This is a very good team we were playing and you have to have your ‘A’ game to beat them and today we played our ‘A’ game.”
“It was a whole team effort,” said Nelson, a junior infielder. “We played really solid defense and had some clutch hits.”
Nelson had perhaps the biggest clutch hit of the day when she lined a two-out single to center field to score two runs in the bottom of the third inning and put the Braves ahead 4-1.
“I was just really focusing on hitting the ball and just working for my team,” Nelson said.
“They were very key RBIs and it gave us a bit of breathing room to settle down and do what we had to do,” Cioppa said.
The third-seeded Patriots (14-6) closed to within 4-2 on Myranda Smithburger’s run-scoring single in the fifth, but that was as close as they would get.
Following that hit, Burch retired seven of the last nine batters with the only two to reach base doing so via errors.
“I just wanted to keep the hits to a minimum, so I tried to pitch it where they couldn’t hit it,” said the 6-foot-1 sophomore, who allowed seven hits, all singles, and struck out four. “I was just trying to hit my spots.”
Burch recorded 11 groundouts.
“Caitlyn did a terrific job to- day,” Cioppa said. “Her pitches had good movement to them and she was keeping her pitches down and she got the job done very well.”
Chopticon set the tone of the game on Kollar’s two-run home run over the fence in center field in the bottom of the first.
“She had a great hit for us,” Cioppa said. “The idea is you want to win each inning, and if a team does get a run or two [on the board], then you want to stay tough and battle hard and today we made that happen.
“Our defense is pretty solid, they were just hitting our pitcher and there’s really nothing we could have done about those first [few runs],” Smithburger said. “And our offense wasn’t what is usually is. When there were runners in scoring position we just weren’t producing and that’s unusual for us.”
Northern had a chance to get some runs on the board in the second when it had runners on second and third with no outs. But Lauren Daugherty was ruled out when it was determined she left the bag early at third. Sarah Donaldson and Kaitlyn Culbert hit back-toback groundouts to end the threat.
“When you have second and third and nobody out and your No. 6 batter up, that’s a big spot to have that call,” Northern head coach Robert Earl Radford said. “It’s tough to come back from that.”
But the Patriots cut the deficit in half on Smithburger’s RBI double in the third.
“I’ve noticed [this season] she pitches me a lot outside and I’ve never been a good outside hitter, so I knew she was going to pitch me outside,” Smithburger said. “So I made the adjustment and I stepped to the ball. I was more confident because I knew what she was going to do.”
But the dagger came in the bottom of the inning when Nelson delivered her clutch hit.
“That’s tough to come back from, but they hung in there and fought,” Radford said. “This is a tough place to play and they’re a tough team, but we’ve been here before in this situation and we came back so I was proud with the way that we fought. We didn’t always score, but they didn’t give up and fought hard. If a couple things had gone our way, things might have been different.”
Radford and senior Ashlynne Smith saw improvement this season.
“Overall, it’s not where we wanted to end the season, but the kids came in and we were trying to get the brand back and teach them how to to play the game and we had some success with that,” Radford said. “There were moments during the season where they looked really, really good. The thing I wasn’t pleased with were the inconsistencies; we’d have three innings where we look great, then we have an inning from hell. We have to get that out of our system.”
“We had to help the younger girls adjust and help them with expectations and hustle and always giving 100 percent,” Smith said. “We started with a rocky start, but then we all connected.”
Chopticon pitcher Caitlyn Burch, left, is congratulated by catcher and sister Jaclyn Burch following the Braves’ 5-2 Class 3A South Region Section II semifinal win on Monday. Caitlyn Burch allowed seven singles, fanned four and had 11 groundouts.