Cumberland Times-News

May 25, 2008

Everything fell neatly in order for Sentinels

Mike Mathews

COLLEGE PARK

They played well as underdogs yesterday. We’ll see how well they’ll play as favorites next year.

The Fort Hill Sentinels, with an all-sophomore infield and not a senior to be found, won the Maryland Class 1A softball state championship Saturday afternoon.

They did it by out-hitting, out-pitching and out-playing Col. Richardson, which lost in the title game for the third straight year. Even when the Sentinels made a mistake they came out smelling like a rose.

Head coach Mike Bittner admitted that in recounting a wild second inning on a sunny, breezy afternoon.

The inning featured an umpire’s warning to Col. Richardson pitcher Renee Statton for an illegal delivery and a lineup error that led to the Sentinels batting out of order, feuling a brief fear that a run would be disallowed and a potential big inning doused.

Didn’t matter, though, because this was Fort Hill’s day. The Sentinels’ half of the second inning included: 38 pitches, five runs, four hits, a walk, two wild pitches, a passed ball, a stolen base and three straight two-out, RBI hits.

Everything went so well that even when leadoff hitter Cierra Miller struck out she reached first, on a third-strike wild pitch.

Miller moved to third on another wild pitch and a passed ball, Olivia Stanley walked, and Brittany Hines smacked an RBI single to center and took second on the throw home.

But with Lindsey Fisher batting with one out and a 2-2 count, Col. Richardson’s coaches realized the Sentinels had batted out of order. Fisher was listed as the No. 8 hitter and Hines No. 9.

A lengthy delay and discussion among coaches, umpires, tournament committee members and the rules interpreter followed.

The ruling soothed Fort Hill’s fears. The run counted, but Fisher was replaced at the plate by the next batter, leadoff hitter Kathryn Huber, who assumed the 2-2 count.

A strike to Huber completed the strikeout. But Destiny James stroked a two-run single to left to make it 3-0. Beavers followed with an RBI triple and Adria Lewis an RBI double.

That made it 5-0 and with Beavers (12-1, 1.17 ERA entering the state tournament) going, the Sentinels were back to feeling awfully good again.

Bittner said there are two lineup cards to fill out, one for the pressbox and the official one for the umpires. The official one had Fisher No. 8 and Hines No. 9.

“I went over and over it, and even checked it again before I gave it to the umpire and still didn’t catch it,’’ he said. “I screwed up. I made a mistake but it didn’t hurt us, thank goodness.”

According to a member of the tournament committee, Col. Richardson pointed out the error too late, in the middle of the at-bat to the next hitter, for it to have more of a consequence. Had the Colonel coaches made their case prior to a pitch being thrown to Fisher, Hines would have been out, the first run erased, and there would be two outs.

Was it Destiny? Perhaps. It was fitting that on this day she was on Fort Hill’s side, too, and at the plate at just the right time.

“I knew I had to come through because the bases were loaded and I just had to hit the ball,’’ said James, the sophomore shortstop, recalling her two-run single. “I didn’t really feel any pressure. I’m used to that.”

None of the Sentinels appeared to feel any. Certainly not Beavers, who went 3-for-3 with a triple, double, single, three runs scored, one RBI, one stolen base, seven innings pitched, eight strikeouts, nine rebounds, four blocked shots, two touchdowns and three three-point goals.

Well, you get the idea. She did just about everything. Perhaps even drove the bus home and washed the uniforms.

Bittner said there was a underlying reason for her performance.

“Redemption. This team beat us 17-2 in the state semifinals two years ago,’’ Bittner recalled. “Shari was a freshman pitcher. I remember her saying after the game that day, ‘I owe them one.’”

She collected, in full, yesterday.

“Two years ago as a freshman pitcher I pretty much got murdered by this team, so I wanted to beat them maybe a little more than the rest of the girls did,’’ said Beavers. “I only pitched one inning that day, but maybe revenge did play a role in it.”

It’s been 54 years since any Fort Hill girls team won a state championship. The next one probably won’t take as long. It may be a matter of months, as every player on this year’s team will be back next season.

“It feels good, but it still hasn’t hit me that we’ve really won. I knew we had it in us. We just had to play hard,’’ said James. “A lot of people thought we were underdogs, so we just went out and played our game.”

Underdogs no more. Call them state champions today, and favorites tomorrow.

Contact Mike Mathews at mmathews@times-news.com.