Softball goes back-to-back with region championship win over Vikings

Reynolds’ grand slam grants team third-ever state quarterfinal appearance
Sophomore third baseman Ella Reynolds approaches home plate as the team celebrates her grand slam. Reynolds gave the team a 4-0 lead in their regional final.
Sophomore third baseman Ella Reynolds approaches home plate as the team celebrates her grand slam. Reynolds gave the team a 4-0 lead in their regional final.
Nick Opipari

Winning was a word that, for a long time, was not often associated with WJ softball. Between 2006 and 2008, the team averaged just two wins per season. Between 2008 and 2017, the team only passed the .500 mark once. And before 2021, the team had never won a regional championship.

But for WJ softball’s class of 2024, winning is all they have ever known. The team’s five seniors and their 10 underclassmen teammates clinched a back-to-back region championship and their third region title in four years with a 7-4 win over Whitman High School on Thursday, May 16, cementing a new era of dominance and winning for WJ’s softball team.

Following their semifinal win over Churchill High School and Whitman’s 16-6 defeat of Quince Orchard High School, the two teams were set for a rematch of their regular season meeting, which the Wildcats had won 10-6.

Despite the regular season victory, Whitman had upset the number one-seed and division champion Wildcats 17-1 in the playoffs in 2022, a game still burned into the minds of many upperclassmen and head coach Richard Carter.

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Sophomore shortstop Addie Strbak swings on a pitch with her signature slap swing. Strbak led the Wildcats with a lead-off triple and went 3 for 4 at the plate. (Nick Opipari)

With the two teams facing off on Thursday after a one-day rain delay, both teams got off to a slow start, although Whitman had more opportunities early in the game with multiple hits in the top of the first few innings.

After a scoreless two and a half innings, the bottom of the third inning saw WJ’s offense explode. Junior designated hitter Vivian Leibreich, sophomore shortstop Addie Strbak and senior pitcher Sami Rosenberg each got on base with a single to load the bases with no outs before sophomore Ella Reynolds came up to the plate.

Reynolds sent the ball barreling high and deep over the right fielder, to score a grand slam.

“I was really just thinking ‘get a hit,’ solid line drive, because I had been really early the at-bat before, so I was trying to wait on it, and clearly that worked,” Reynolds said.

The grand slam opened up the game for the Wildcats, giving them a 4-0 lead, which was a lead they would take and never give back.

“I was actually kind of expecting a nice little line drive, shot in the gap, get us started, scores two or three runs, but she obviously absolutely annihilated it,” Carter said. “Vivian was on third and I was like ‘tag up… never mind, that’s gone,’ it was just so deep.”

The Wildcats would tack on insurance runs in the next three innings, giving them a 7-0 lead heading into the top of the sixth inning. Whitman would make the ending a little tense for the Wildcats as they started to get more hits and Rosenberg began to walk more batters.

“I think we came into this [thinking] ‘well you know, we can probably take this,’ not energetic, so I think finally becoming energetic was really the key to this win,” Strbak said.

Sophomore catcher Alina Bonior makes the tag on Whitman baserunner Asha Tallapragada to win the game for the Wildcats. Bonior and her sophomore teammates have won back-to-back region championships.

Rosenberg would walk nine batters in the game, although also striking out nine, throwing 148 pitches in total. The Vikings scored four runners in the top of the sixth inning, mostly off of walks by Rosenberg, including three walks in a row to load the bases with no outs.

With a 7-4 lead in the top of the seventh inning, two routine plays set up the final out of the game, which came off a throw from sophomore left fielder Abby Koenig to sophomore catcher Alina Bonior to tag out a runner at home.

“It’s good to have that lead because late in the game, we gave up a few, and made it interesting,” Carter said. “It’s just how we roll.”

The win solidified a new era of softball at WJ, especially for seniors Allie Berube, Carly Gilder, Mackenzie Norris and Rosenberg, who have played on varsity since their freshman year, and will graduate with three region championships to their name.

“When they first got here they had Kristin [Vargas], Maya [Rickles], Sofia [Lynch] and Brooke [Levin] and then as they’ve graduated, they’ve brought in these other freshmen that have grown with them, but they’ve been the core, throughout those four years, of really solidifying WJ softball, and it’s gonna be tough to replace them,” Carter said.

As freshmen in 2021, they defeated Wootton High School to claim what was then WJ’s first-ever region championships. After the Whitman upset in 2022, they recovered in 2023 with a region title over B-CC High School, and locked in their reputation as winners this year with their third region title.

“It’s really exciting, it’s a really good way to end my softball career. I think we deserved it, everybody’s been working really hard this year and we have a great team,” Rosenberg said.

With the region championship in hand, the team will advance to the state quarterfinal. In the last two state quarterfinals they played, they lost to the eventual state champion (Catonsville in 2021 and Urbana in 2023).

This year, the team, seeded third for states, will once again play against the sixth-seeded Urbana High School, whom they lost to 18-0 in the state quarterfinal last year.

The team poses for a picture with senior pitcher Sami Rosenberg and sophomore shortstop Addie Strbak holding the championship plaque. (Nick Opipari)

Some things have changed since last year, as Urbana has lost their pitcher in Division I commit Delaney Reefe, and has regressed to a 12-6 record after going 12-3 last year.

The two teams will play on WJ turf on Saturday, May 16 at 2 p.m.

No matter the result of the matchup, the game will be the last game WJ seniors play on their home field. If the team advances, they will play Tuesday in the state semifinals at Bachman Field in Glen Burnie.

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