Back-and-forth game sends softball into first-ever state semifinal

Wildcats left the victors after four changes in lead
Sophomore shortstop Addie Strbak slides into home plate to open the scoring for the Wildcats. Strbak and the teams offensive hitting led them to a 9-7 win over Urbana HS in the 4A state quarterfinal Monday. Strbaks run was also the first-ever run the Wildcats had scored in a state quarterfinal, having been shut out in their two previous appearances.
Sophomore shortstop Addie Strbak slides into home plate to open the scoring for the Wildcats. Strbak and the team’s offensive hitting led them to a 9-7 win over Urbana HS in the 4A state quarterfinal Monday. Strbak’s run was also the first-ever run the Wildcats had scored in a state quarterfinal, having been shut out in their two previous appearances.
Seyun Park

Listen to The Pitch’s play-by-play broadcast of the game: 

May 20, 2023 saw the Walter Johnson Wildcats mercy ruled 18-0 at home by the Urbana Hawks in the 4A state quarterfinal.

But one year to the day later, the Wildcats sunk their teeth into the sweet dish of revenge, cooking up a 9-7 victory over the Hawks in the same quarterfinal game, and sending them into their first-ever state semifinal.

The turbulent game opened with a 2-run inning from the Hawks, who had won their region against Northwest 7-1.

The top of the first inning included WJ’s starting pitcher Sami Rosenberg walking two batters. The Wildcats had hoped to avoid a repeat of the strong start Urbana had gotten last year, where they scored 7 runs in the top of the first inning.

“My biggest concern was the team we were playing … We knew it was a different team, we knew we’re a different team, but mentally, would [we] be able to get over that obstacle and be convinced that [we] could win?” head coach Richard Carter said.

The answer to that question came in the bottom of the first inning as the Wildcats responded to the Hawk’s early 2-0 lead by scoring 2 runs of their own, thanks to RBIs off of hits from Rosenberg and sophomore catcher Alina Bonior.

“After [the team] gave up the 2 runs in the first inning, and then they answered back, I kind of knew we were gonna have a shot, and they just kept battling,” Carter said.

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  • Senior Ellie Langley jumps to land on home plate, scoring a home run in the bottom of the third inning. Langley’s home run was crucial in bringing the Wildcats back into the game after going down 4-2 in the top of the inning.

  • Senior pitcher Sami Rosenberg takes warm ups prior to the game. Rosenberg was a stalwart at the circle for the Wildcats, staving off a late Urbana comeback attempt and clinching the game on a strikeout.

  • Sophomore catcher Alina Bonior makes the catch on a pitch from senior pitcher Sami Rosenberg to strike out Urbana senior pitcher Delainey Quartucci swinging.

  • Sophomore third baseman Ella Reynolds tries unsuccessfully to get around a tag.

  • Sophomore shortstop Addie Strbak sits safely on third base. (Seyun Park)

  • Sophomore shortstop Addie Strbak lies on the dirt after sprinting home to score a run. (Seyun Park)

  • Senior pitcher Sami Rosenberg rounds third base to score a run. (Seyun Park)

  • Sophomore catcher Alina Bonior puts on her mask as she heads out to catch. (Seyun Park)

  • The Urbana team has a mound meeting as the Wildcats continued to pressure the Hawks. (Seyun Park)

  • Senior Mackenzie Norris throws the ball as members of the WJ baseball team, spectating, celebrate behind. (Seyun Park)

  • Rosenberg and Strbak share a quick conversation as Rosenberg heads to the circle to pitch. (Seyun Park)

  • The team celebrates following Langley’s home run. (Seyun Park)

  • Head Coach Richard Carter shares a moment with the team he has coached since 2018. He has seen the team improve from two wins in his first season to 16 wins this season. (Seyun Park)

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The Wildcats gave up another 2 runs in the top of the second inning and struggled in the bottom of the second and third innings, scoring no runners.

The bottom of the fourth inning saw a solo home run from senior Ellie Langley to make it a 4-3 ball game and also marked the end of the day for Urbana’s starting pitcher senior Delainey Quartucci.

Freshman Clara Woodham took Quartucci’s place at the circle and would pitch the rest of the game for the Hawks.

“When they brought in the second one, we didn’t panic, we started hitting her too, and we never gave it up,” Carter said.

After holding the Hawks scoreless in the third, fourth and fifth innings, the Wildcats would take the lead for the first time in the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. Sophomore shortstop Addie Strbak led off with a single and the team eventually loaded the bases with no outs, scoring 3 runs before Urbana could turn on damage control and retire the inning trailing 6-4.

In the Wildcats’ dugout, junior Lydia Stelnyk says a prayer while former WJ player Maya Rickles looks on the field worryingly, with the promised land of a state semifinal just out of reach. The lead changed four times in the game with the Wildcats ultimately taking back the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning. (Seyun Park)

The top of the sixth saw the Wildcats give up the lead as the Hawks scored three to take a 7-6 lead before the Wildcats scored another three in the bottom of the sixth for the fourth lead change of the game and to make the score 9-7.

Rosenberg, playing in her last-ever game at home, ended the game in the top of the seventh inning with a strikeout to send the Hawks home packing.

“It’s really sad [to leave], but you couldn’t have asked for a better ending with a better group of people,” Rosenberg said. “Everybody was here and everybody wanted to win. We got it done.”

Watch the winning moment as senior pitcher Sami Rosenberg closed out the game on a strikeout (Nick Opipari)

The win was one of the best, grittiest wins the team has pulled out this season. Rarely have the Wildcats managed to claw back from going down early, often losing or winning their games by big margins.

“The whole team pulled through, everyone contributed to the team effort and the amazing win,” junior designated hitter Vivian Liebreich said. “[Urbana] thought they would beat us because they beat us 18-0 last year, but it just made us want to fight harder.”

Watch the team celebrate their first-ever state semifinal, avenging their 18-0 loss to the Hawks in 2023 (Courtesy WJ Athletics via X)

Carter reflected on how far the softball program had come since he took over the program in 2018.

“I reluctantly took over the job to help with JV … and I got kinda thrown into varsity. We had two wins my first year … Now we’re at 16. It’s just been a steady progression … We knew at some point we’d turn it around, and this is the fruit of that labor,” Carter said.

After amassing 15 wins last season in their run to the state quarterfinal, the team’s 16th win over Urbana made the 2024 season softball’s winningest season of all time.

Into their first-ever state semifinal, the Wildcats will have a quick turnaround as they face the Leonardtown Raiders on May 21 at 7 p.m. at Bachman Field.

The Raiders will also have to deal with a tight turnaround as their starting pitcher Claire Radford threw over 130 pitches in a 12-inning showdown with the Crofton Cardinals Monday afternoon.

We don’t know much about them … All I know is I have faith in my team,

— Head Coach Richard Carter

“They’re a great team, I’m sure. At this point, it’s like icing on the cake. We’re just going out there, we have nothing to lose. We don’t know much about them, [and] it’s hard going into games blind. All I know is I have faith in my team,” Carter said.

Despite the tight turnaround and the unknown nature of what lies ahead, the team remained confident for their biggest game of the season and careers.

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