By Nelson Coffin
The Chapelgate Christian Academy softball team has been knocking on the door for a long time, having reached the B Conference softball final in four of the last five years under coach John Issac.
On Saturday, the unbeaten Yellowjackets (13-0) knocked that door off its hinges by topping St. Paul’s School for Girls, 5-4, in the conference championship game at Harford Community College on junior catcher Ellie Henneberg’s single that brought home sophomore second baseman Olivia Sunde in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the top seeds and their coach a first-ever title.
“It was a matter of attrition,” Issac said after Chapelgate’s second consecutive postseason walk-off win.
The coach, in his 15th year at the helm, was alluding to the fact that the second-seeded Gators scored an unearned run to knot the score in the top of he inning on freshman second baseman Katie Hobbs’ clutch single to drive in freshman first baseman Dylan Delaney, who reached on an error and continued to second on a passed ball.
“But we came back,” Issac said gleefully.
Henneberg said that her mindset when she stepped into the box against senior right-hander Sidney Hobbs was simple.
“I told myself that I was just going to try to hit the ball as hard as I could,” she said.
Fellow junior Emily Ventkatesan picked up the win for the Yellowjackets after fanning 11 Gators in the route-going performance. For the season, the ace righty racked up 155 K’s.
The battery played a key role in a 5-4 semifinal win over Notre Dame Prep as well when Henneberg scored from first on Ventkatesan’s single to close out the Blazers.
“Ellie ripped a single to get on,” Issac said. “And then Emily hit an absolute rocket to center, and when the center fielder went down on a knee to block it, I sent Ellie. She may not be my fastest runner, but she could be my smartest (runner).”
St. Paul’s (9-4) was looking pretty smart in its own right when it put up a three-spot in the second inning on an RBI double by sophomore center fielder Abbi Klein and a two-run single by junior catcher Emily Issing.
Chapelgate pecked away at the deficit, picking up an unearned run in the bottom half of the inning on a groundout by freshman third baseman Allie Widmaier.
The Yellowjackets tied it in the fourth on an RBI double by Ventkatesan and a sacrifice fly sophomore infielder Sarah Brewer and took the lead an inning later on Henneberg’s first RBI single of the game.
Henneberg and Ventkatesan both said that a big part of the team’s motivation was to honor hitting coach Trey Shackelford, who had surgery recently for the effects of a freak accident when a tree fell on him.
In fact, the team visited Shackelford at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore not too long ago.
St. Paul’s coach Diana Allen said that, like her counterparts, the Gators are also making strides on the diamond.
“This was almost a fairytale season for us,” she said. “We got a good jump on them early and kept working. Their pitcher was phenomenal, but we kept trying to wear her out. We have a lot of respect for Chapelgate. We just need to keep pecking away, because we have gotten better every year.”