“Remember what this feels like” — that was one of the messages Severna Park varsity softball coach Meredith McAlister delivered to her team after they lost 21-5 to Sherwood in the 4A state championship game, which ended around midnight Sunday morning at the University of Maryland – College Park.
McAlister was proud of her young team for outperforming expectations and making it to the state final, but she wants her players to use the tough loss as motivation for next year.
Severna Park came into the game after a 13-10 season and a Cinderella playoff run whereas Sherwood went 17-2, beating defending champion Catonsville in the state semifinal.
“We knew we were the underdog,” McAlister said. “We knew we had to put it all together perfectly and that definitely didn’t happen tonight. There were a lot of factors, like waiting until 9:30pm to play, but [Sherwood] had to do the same thing. So we’re not going to make excuses; we’re certainly going to learn from it. Coming into a big stadium like that, it’s hard to do.”
The way the game started, Severna Park looked ready to meet the monumental task. Savannah Drummond hit a leadoff single and advanced to second on a passed ball. Viktoria Dorn laid down a bunt single, and with a Sally Trent sacrifice fly to left field, the Falcons took a 1-0 lead.
From there, the momentum shifted to Sherwood. Brenya Schlutz hit a leadoff single, Keira Schlutz bunted for a single, and after the Falcons erased the lead runner on a chopper to third base, Alyssa Amond singled to load the bases. Summer Green came to the plate and abruptly hit a double to score three runs for Sherwood.
Hannah Friend kept the inning going with a double, and a subsequent grounder to third gave the Warriors a 4-1 lead. The Falcons could not get the third out they desperately needed. Julia Peffer added an RBI single, Ally Long singled, and Brenya Schlutz came up to bat for the second time in the first inning, hitting a single to make the score 6-1. Keira Schlutz then slammed a pitch into the gap between left field and center to make the score 8-1. A few more hits and a few Severna Park errors followed before the Falcons got out of the first inning with a 13-1 deficit.
Down 19-1 in the top of the third, Severna Park attempted to rally. Ally Weaver drew a leadoff walk. After a flyball out, Dorn smacked a single over the Sherwood shortstop and Trent walked to load the bases with one out. With the Falcons down to two outs, Addison Bianco hit a ground ball through the infield to make the score 19-3.
The Falcons would get RBIs from Bianco and Lily Becker in the fifth inning. Approaching midnight, the stadium power went out. Players from both teams embraced the moment, dancing on the field with Journey songs blaring over the speaker and fans waving their cellphone lights in the stands.
“This is the second time the lights went out in one of our games and we just go out there and dance and have a good time,” Dorn said after the game. “We’re so close that no matter if there is a bump in the road, we know how to make it fun.”
When play resumed, Sherwood captured the final out as the 10-run mercy rule took effect and the Warriors hoisted the championship trophy.
Even though Severna Park starting pitcher Christina Ballagh had a rough night, her strong performances throughout the playoffs helped Severna Park reach the state final — a fact McAlister was mindful of after the game.
“She’s worked very hard to be where she is,” McAlister said. “If you looked at her pitching last year, she’s had a lot more poise [this season] on the mound. She was only a freshman last year, so she’s only a sophomore. She was only 100 pounds and now she’s maybe 120 pounds, so for her to put us in this situation is perseverance and continuing to work in the face of any adversity that came at her, and that’s what you want in a pitcher.”
Despite playing from behind, Severna Park players stayed positive throughout the game, encouraging one another after each at-bat and having fun.
“I think Sherwood is a great team,” Becker said. “They have a lot of fight and they have a really powerful offense. We just wanted to come out and have a great time. We weren’t looking to slaughter anybody. We were just looking to play our game and have a good time and that’s what we did, so I’m happy with it.
“Coming into it, nobody expected us to make states and that’s why it’s so great because we proved everybody wrong,” she said. “We were all just happy that we made it as far as we did, and we worked hard every single game and we fought every single game. That’s all that matters.”
The state final marked the last game for Becker and for Dorn, a fellow senior. Both players believe their younger teammates will heed their coach’s advice, remembering the loss and coming back strong next year.
“This program, no matter how good or how bad [we’re doing], it has so much heart,” Dorn said. “We put our soul and our energy into every game no matter the outcome. I’ve been on the team since freshman year, and every game that I’ve played, it’s been that way. Hopefully it continues.”