Hagerstown, MD - As the field was raked and the bases were packed away one last time, there were mixed emotions across the Hagerstown Community College softball field.
Some players had tears after playing their final home game as a Hawk, while others were buzzing with excitement.
HCC had just defeated Anne Arundel 7-0 in the deciding game of a best-of-three play-in series and clinched a berth in the NJCAA Region XX Division II Final Four.
The second-seed Hawks (33-9) will face Potomac State, the third seed and four-time reigning region champion, in Catonsville on Thursday at 4 p.m. to start the double-elimination tournament.
"This feels awesome. I've never felt any better," said HCC coach Jenna Knable. "They've worked hard all season for this and came out and played like the Hawks we've seen and have enjoyed watching all year. They were hungry for a win, and you could see that by the way they played tonight."
After spinning a five-inning one-hitter against the Riverhawks (13-23) on Saturday, HCC stayed with ace Emily Talbert, and she delivered.
Talbert fired a shutout — fanning 11 — to seal the series for the Hawks. She worked out of early trouble, striking out Gracie Culley to leave the bases loaded in the first inning.
The Hawks got all the runs they needed in the bottom of the inning. Maddy McDonough led off with a single and moved to second on Elizabeth Churchman's bunt. Madi Renn cashed in with an RBI triple to right.
"I knew right away that it was going to be a solid hit, and I knew it would be something that would help my teammates out," Renn said. "It was high and outside, and Coach always says, 'If it's there, go with it.' It felt good just to get the hit and RBI for my team."
Renn scored three pitches later on a wild pitch, making it 2-0. HCC took a 3-0 lead on Ashley Bachtell's bases-loaded single.
The Hawks added to the lead with two runs in the third. Renn singled and Talbert walked to open the frame, before Kaitlin Wolfe bunted and reached on a throwing error that allowed Renn to score. Victoria Oliver followed with an RBI double to make it 5-0.
The Riverhawks attempted a comeback in the fifth by loading the bases. Once again, Talbert dug down, overcoming a seven-pitch at-bat to strike out Culley and end the threat.
The Hawks added a pair of insurance runs in the sixth. Payton Smith, running for Talbert after a two-out single, moved to second when Wolfe walked. Victoria Oliver and Cierra Beaver followed with RBI singles for a 7-0 advantage.
Anne Arundel made one last attempt to get back in the game in the seventh. Talbert collected two quick outs before allowing Kyleigh McQuade to single and hitting a batter.
Knable made a quick visit to the circle before Talbert induced a popup to end the game and clinch the Final Four berth.
"Emily played with her heart today. She wanted to come out of here with a win," Renn said. "You could tell at the end it was very emotional because she started tearing up, but it didn't stop her."
It was the conclusion of an emotional series for the Hawks. After Saturday's doubleheader split, they celebrated their group of sophomores — and McDonough, who will transfer to Towson in the fall — with a special ceremony.
"That was everything to me, because after this I'm done (playing softball) because I'm going downtown to Frostburg," Wolfe said. "This is pretty much my last ride. We have to lay it all on the line and do what we usually do and play as a team. I've got my pack behind me, so there's nothing else I could ask for."
As Knable read off career stats for each player, she threw in memories that prompted laughter and tears. As she concluded the ceremony, Knable looked at her players and smiled.
"We're not done yet," she said. "We've still got work to do."