NORTH EAST — Trailing 1-0 in the fourth inning Friday afternoon, the Lions collectively attacked.
Sophomore Breanna Athey smashed an infield hit off North East-Cecil shortstop to begin a four-run fourth for Queen Anne’s County High’s softball team on its way to a 9-4 victory and the Class 2A East Region championship.
Cameron Whiteford went the distance on the mound for Queen Anne’s, which captured the school’s first regional championship in softball.
Athey went 3 for 3 with three runs scored and Taylor Walls and Alyson Hall each knocked in two runs for the Lions. Emily Gunther and Belle Fields each had an RBI.
Delaney McDilda led the Indians with a two-run double in the bottom of the seventh.
Whiteford kept North East’s potent bats virtually in check through six innings before the top of the Indians order scored three runs with two outs in the final frame. Queen Anne’s sophomore right-hander rebounded to retire Megan Harris on a ground out to end the game.
“We were on fire,” Whiteford said. “The moment we got here we just had so much energy and we were ready to go from the moment we got off the bus. Our bats were on fire. Our defense was on fire. Everything was good.”
Queen Anne’s (18-3) advances to face West champion Middletown in the state semifinals at 4 p.m. on Tuesday at Field #3 at the Bachman Sports Complex in Glen Burnie. Middletown nipped Williamsport, 4-3, to win the West. The other semifinal pits North champion Eastern Tech against South champ LaPlata at 4 p.m. on Field #1.
“Such an emotional moment for everybody,” Lions head coach Kim Betts said. “This is our program’s first (regional title). Super proud. The entire lineup contributed. They had intensity the entire game, timely hitting, hit the ball solid. I couldn’t be more proud of their plate performance. We let a couple baserunners get on, some base hits by North East in that final inning. We just kept our composure, focused on the batter.”
Against North East starter Morgan Sargent, the Lions didn’t score in the first three innings despite getting their leadoff hitter on all three times, including two bunt base hits by Julia Smith. But that all changed in the fourth.
Athey reached base on her infield hit and Hall pushed her to second with a sacrifice bunt. Gunther then delivered a line-drive single to left to plate Athey, tying the game at 1-1. Fields moved Gunther to third with a bunt on a close call at first base. Smith was intentionally walked. Walls then put the Lions in front to stay by bashing a liner over North East’s center fielder for a two-run triple and a 3-1 lead. Walls scored on a throwing error after a grounder off the bat of Whiteford to make it 4-1.
With one out in the fifth and a new pitcher, Aleshia Doctor, on the mound for North East, Athey singled up the middle. She scored on back-to-back infield hits by Gunther and Fields to make it 5-1.
“I think we did great. We played our hearts out and we did the best that we could,” Athey said. “Honestly, I was a little nervous, butterflies in my stomach, but we fought through it.”
After a scoreless sixth, both teams’ bats boomed in the seventh.
Alyssa Sofinowski doubled down the left-field line and took third on a base-hit bunt by Athey. Hall then knocked in both runners on a double into the left-center gap for a 7-1 Lions lead. Gunther (3 for 4) lined a single to left and Hall scored on a wild pitch. Gunther came home on an error for a commanding 9-1 lead.
Those four extra runs for the Lions provided a welcome cushion as North East put together its best offense in the final frame. With two outs, Abby Riley reached on an infield hit and Doctor via an error. McDilda then blasted a two-run double to left-center, and Jess Choplinski doubled to the base of the center-field fence for another run. But that was the end of that with Whiteford retiring the next batter.
The Indians had taken a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third. McDilda walked and moved to second on a wild pitch. With two outs, Harris looped a double into shallow center field to plate McDilda. Whiteford induced a pop out to leave Harris at second.
Whiteford struck out nine, including four in the second inning because one runner gained first on a third-strike wild pitch. She allowed four runs (one earned) on five hits and four walks.
“I felt like I kind of got in a groove, so I felt good,” Whiteford said.
“Cameron was on fire today, best game she’s pitched all season,” Betts said. “She was in her zone. She was focused in her zone.”
In four innings, Sargent yielded four runs (three earned) on five hits and three walks, with two strikeouts. Doctor allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits in the final three innings. She fanned two.