Hagerstown - Apr. 22, 2019 - All season long, the Hagerstown Community College softball team had been waiting for Monday's Maryland JUCO doubleheader against Catonsville.
Entering play, just one game separated the Hawks and Cardinals in both the conference and Region XX standings.
Monday's twin bill gave both teams the chance to add some space between the two. But at the end of the day, each squad is back where it started, one game apart, after splitting the contests.
HCC rode a 13-strikeout performance by Emily Talbert to a 3-2 victory in the opener. In the nightcap, Catonsville launched three home runs in a six-run fifth inning en route to a 13-2 victory.
"I'm proud of them. We lost the second game pretty bad, but we won the first game and my goal was to come in here with a split," HCC coach Jenna Knable said. "We now know what we need to do the next week and a half to get ready for playoffs.
"Now we know if we make it to the Region XX final four, we can beat them and they can beat us, so it depends on who shows up for that game."
With the regular season now finished for HCC (31-8, 16-2), the split all but guarantees the top seed in the region tournament for tourney host Catonsville (28-8, 13-1), unless the Cardinals lose two of their six remaining regional games.
With the second seed all but locked up for HCC, the Hawks will host the seventh-seeded team for a best-of-three play-in series. The teams will play a doubleheader on May 4 with the first pitch set for noon.
Talbert set the Cardinals down in order in the opening frame of the first game. Marissa Heuer — who entered play with a conference-leading 1.11 ERA — did the same in the bottom half for Catonsville.
Talbert gave up a leadoff single in the second but answered with three straight strikeouts. Then she got some run support in the bottom half after leading off with a single. She reached third on a Kaitlin Wolfe single. Victoria Oliver followed with a sharp ground ball to second that resulted in an errant throw, allowing Talbert to score the first run of the game.
The error allowed Oliver to reach second and Wolfe to take third. Two batters later, Lily Oliver plated Wolfe on a groundout to second, making it 2-0.
From there, Talbert and Heuer put up zeroes.
The Cardinals got a pair of runners on base in the fourth via a walk and a single, but Talbert pitched her way out of the jam with a pair of strikeouts. In the fifth, Talbert stranded two more by inducing a two-out ground ball for a fielder's choice.
HCC figured Heuer out enough to add an insurance run in the sixth. Elizabeth Churchman singled to lead off the frame, then raced from first to home on a hard-hit double into the left-center gap by Madi Renn, making it 3-0.
Catonsville refused to go down quietly in the seventh. After getting a quick two outs, the Cardinals stayed alive to score a pair of runs. Madeline English hit a fly to right that was out of the reach of Payton Smith, and hustled around the bases for an inside-the-park home run as Smith painfully got the ball back to the infield.
"Payton has a bad ankle and she said as she went for the ball, she tweaked it," Knable said. "It's the same ankle that had her in a boot for a while earlier in the season, but I think she'll be OK with some rest."
Alleshia Pullen followed with a home run over the fence in left to cut the deficit to 3-2. Talbert buckled down and got a swinging strikeout to end the game, putting the two teams into a tie in the standings.
As he gathered his players behind first base in between games, Catonsville coach Chuck Slater rallied his troops.
"Right now, that game means nothing," Slater said. "All it means is they (the Hawks) have tied us. ... We need to get going sooner."
The Cardinals' late-game power carried into the nightcap. After scoring the first run on a bloop single by Amy Propst that barely landed in fair territory in the second, the Cardinals added two more on RBI singles by Hailey Manning and Heuer in the third for a 3-0 lead.
The Hawks answered with a run in the bottom half. Lily Oliver walked to lead off and Ashley Bachtell sacrificed her to second. Maddy McDonough singled Oliver home to cut the deficit to 3-1.
Catonsville rallied for two more runs in the fourth for a 6-1 lead. Casey Turner singled home Propst, and Manning doubled home Turner two batters later.
In a six-run fifth, Leah Propst sent a line drive, two-run home run over the center-field fence. Later in the frame, Turner and Alexa Holderfield went deep back-to-back — Turner's being a two-run shot — for a 12-1 lead. The Cardinals capped the rally with a bases loaded walk.
The Hawks got a run in the bottom half on an RBI groundout by Talbert, but it wasn't enough to extend the game.