by Derek Toney
One big swing and a leap of faith equaled redemption for Archbishop Spalding High softball Saturday.
The Cavaliers defeated John Carroll, 7-1, for the A Conference championship at Stevenson University’s Weinberg-Fine Stadium to wipe out the painful memory of last year's loss in the final to McDonogh.
Junior Jayla Neal hit a 2-run home run and Caroline Wasko, Angela Sena, Alexandra Robinson and Jordan Moore each had RBIs for Spalding.
The Cavaliers (10-4 overall) got timely hitting and a gritty pitching effort from freshman Amaya Carroll to claim their record 10th title and first since 2016 after losing, 1-0, to the Eagles in last year’s title game at Harford Community College.
Neal, a junior, provided the offense Spalding would need Saturday, cranking John Carroll’s Emma Kropkowski’s second offering over the left centerfield fence for a 2-0 advantage in the third. The Cavaliers added two more runs in the frame.
“That was only my second home run ever in high school,” said Neal. “I just really wanted to hit the ball.”
The Cavaliers had six regulars contributing at least a hit as senior shortstop Wasko had two safeties and Moore went 2-for-3 with an RBI triple. All but one of Spalding’s starting lineup reached base Saturday.
“We tend to be pretty streaky. We will get a lot of runs in a couple of innings,” said Spalding coach Delaney Bell. “They very much pull off of each other’s energy, so whenever we have a good inning, it just keeps going. The seniors did a lot today.”
So did Carroll. In just her fourth — and obviously biggest — start, Carroll allowed just six hits and struck out four.
“She doesn’t mind the big stage,” said Bell.
The Patriots’ only run came in the fourth on Brianna Botkin’s single, scoring Emma Ritter. Trailing, 4-1, John Carroll loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth, but Carroll struck out Courtney Hartman to retire the side.
“On the inside I had nerves, but you really can’t see it when I am on the mound,” said Carroll. “I knew this was a really big game. I really wanted to do it for the seniors.”
Before Carroll’s clutch strikeout, Spalding called timeout and all eight position players gathered around herl.
“She didn’t show any nerves,” said Carroll’s battery mate, Sena. “She just stood up there strong and kept pitching.”
Bell watched from the dugout.
In her first season coaching Spalding after claiming three IAAM A titles as a player for the Cavs, Bell emphasizes a player-first culture.
“We always tell the girls, 'we coached you in practice, the game is for you,' ” said Bell. “I trust all these girls, the seniors step up and pull them in.”
Sena said it was a pleasant change.
“At the beginning of the year she said she trusted us to play like we know how to play until you lose that trust,” said Sena.
After upending top-seed Mount de Sales Academy in a semifinal on Thursday, John Carroll (9-9) was unable to capture a second IAAM A crown in three seasons, although Ritter went 2-for-2 Saturday, reaching base three times.
Patriots coach Sherry Hudson is excited about the future with Ritter, arguably the league's best player, back among seven underclassmen (three freshman) who started Saturday.
“I am proud,” said Hudson. “Spalding is a good team every year. We’re up to that standard now where we’re trying to compete for the finals.”
It was the perfect end for Spalding seniors Jordan Johnson, Wasko, Alexandra Robinson, Amber Shearin, Madison Burns and Sena.
“We started the year really strong, then the past couple of weeks have been really rough. We lost on Senior Night, we lost our last regular season game,” said Sena. “Coming into playoffs, we just knew we had to play as hard as we could and bounce back.”