By Nelson Coffin
In late March when McDonogh and John Carroll met on the softball diamond for the first time this spring, the Patriots were clinging to a one-run lead in the fifth inning when a circus catch by junior left fielder Shannon Sweeney was turned into a 7-6-2 double play to snuff a bases-loaded threat.
John Carroll eventually prevailed in the A Conference battle, 6-5, in eight innings, although the Eagles would get a measure of revenge when they traveled to Bel Air to top the Patriots, 13-6, in mid-April in the rivals’ second league tilt.
The rubber match, played in Owings Mills on Thursday, was much more like the first game and for much higher stakes — a berth in the championship game against top-seeded Archbishop Spalding (which beat Mount de Sales, 5-2, in the other semi) at noon on Saturday at Harford Community College.
This time, it was the Eagles who pulled off a pulsating 6-5 verdict, one that went down to the final play of the game before McDonogh coach John Folfas and his squad could breathe a sigh of relief.
With two out and runners on first and second in the top of the seventh inning, Sweeney clipped a short pop fly that could have been trouble had it landed in the infield.
At the very least, the bases would have been loaded if freshman second baseman Emma Lach hadn’t made a diving stab to eliminate the defending champion Patriots.
It was not the only big moment for Lach, who blasted her third homer of the season leading off the bottom of the sixth to tie the score at 5-5.
“I was just trying to hit the ball hard,” Lach said. “I was looking for something inside, and that was it.”
McDonogh’s go-ahead run scored after sophomore Ruby Jocelyn singled off John Carroll starts Kyleigh Waugh, moved to second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a groundout and scooted home on an error.
The Eagles had to overcome two deficits, the first after junior catcher Sarah Spaeth singled and came around on sophomore centerfielder Emma Ritter’s homer to right in the third inning.
McDonogh answered in the bottom half of the inning, scoring its first run on walk to Lacey Allepress, a wild pitch, a passed ball and an error and then knotted the score on another wild pitch.
Sophomore pitcher Kearstyn Champman kept the rally going for the Eagles by drawing a walk and going to third on a double by junior catcher Madison Gemmill.
After junior Lauren Fish walked to load the bases, a rain delay sent both teams packing for an hour.
When play resumed, Waugh tagged out courtesy runner Cathy Foss after a quick toss from Gemmill on a bang-bang play at the plate to keep the score deadlocked.
However, freshman Abby Blake’s double plated two more runs to give the Eagles a 4-2 advantage.
The Patriots put up a three-spot in the fourth when sophomore Julianna Donnelly was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to drive in one run and a clutch single to left by Waugh knocked in two run for a 5-4 lead that held until the fateful sixth.
And in the seventh, Chapman walked Waugh to open the inning and an error allowed another baserunner.
Yet the right-hander retired sophomore Kate Gromacki on a popup to third, fanned freshman Katie Levey and retired Sweeney with Lach’s help to get the win.
Folfas praised his hurler for "gutting it out" after fighting an illness this week.
He said that beating John Carroll twice this season was no easy task.
"They are an outstanding team," he said. "Ritter and Sweeney are very difficult to play against."
After her third-inning homer, Folfas had her intentionally walked in her next two plate appearances.