By Nelson Coffin
Having lost in last year’s A Conference softball championship game, 1-0, to McDonogh sophomore Kearstyn Chapman’s four-hitter, Archbishop Spalding coach Delaney Bell selected an even younger pitcher — freshman Amaya Carroll — to challenge the Eagles in a conference playoff semifinal Thursday afternoon in Owings Mills.
Apparently, McDonogh skipper John Folfas was thinking along those same lines, considering that he tabbed Andrea Ottomano, also a rookie, to oppose Carroll.
Belying their youth, both rookie right-handers stood tall in the circle to justify the faith their coaches had in them, although Carroll was a hair better while helping the fourth-seeded Cavaliers to a 2-1 extra-inning victory and a berth in conference final against fifth-seeded John Carroll on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Stevenson University at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave. in Owings Mills.
The Patriots eliminated No. 1 seed Mount de Sales Academy, 8-6, in the other semifinal.
Neither McDonogh (14-4) nor Spalding (9-4) had much success at the plate, given the way that Carroll and Ottomano boasted a baffling assortment of pitches.
Ottomano definitely deserved a better fate after allowing just seven hits and one walk in a route-going performance.
Neither run was charged to her, which lowered her earned run average to 2.24 for the season.
Carroll was also terrific, as she yielded just five hits, walked two and fanned nine while being touched for one earned run.
She helped her own cause in the field by making a diving grab of a bunt attempt by freshman shortstop Harper Allee-Press and firing to first to double up Chapman, who had singled, to end the third inning.
Carroll also drove in the first run in the fourth inning on a ground out after senior second baseman Sarah Slaton reached on an error and went to third on a single by junior designated player Jordan Moore.
The Eagles pushed across the tying run in the fifth inning when freshman designated player Abby Nevin led off with an infield single, scooted to second on junior first baseman Carsyn Belanger’s sacrifice bunt, traveled to third on sophomore second baseman Emma Lach’s infield singe and stole home on a throw-through to second on a double steal.
Spalding senior catcher Angela Sena’s throw to second was meant to be caught and returned in time to cut down Nevin at the plate.
“We just didn’t execute the play,” Sena said.
Sena had better fortune calling Carroll’s pitches, considering that the Eagles never dented the plate again.
The veteran catcher said that an inside screwball was Carroll’s best pitch.
“We kept throwing it until they could do something with it,” she said.
Spalding finally snapped the deadlock in the eighth when freshman ITR Jessica Gannon stole third and raced home on junior first baseman Makenzie Maenner’s grounder to short.
The Eagles threatened in the bottom of the inning, but could not solve Carroll, who induced three groundouts to strand Lach at third.
Carroll was very careful with senior slugger Madison Gemmell at the plate with two outs and Lach dancing off third, giving her what was in essence an intentional walk while hoping she would chase a bad pitch.
Folfas said that Gemmell had a phenomenal four years for a team that claimed its first championship in 17 years last May.
“She was the engine that drove us,” he said about the standout catcher who drove in the only run in last year’s title test.
That’s why Bell was so cautious with Gemmell in the eighth inning.
“She didn’t hurt us today,” the coach said. “And we didn’t want to give her the opportunity to hurt us in that spot.”
Bell said she had no reservations about giving Carroll her third start since being injured in such a pressure-packed situation.
“That doesn’t bother her,” Bell said.
Carroll said that she didn’t want it to be the Cavaliers’ last game of the season.
“I trusted in everybody on our team,” she said. “And they backed me up.”