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The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

Leonardtown deals heartbreak to softball in extra innings

Under the lights, Wildcats’ shot at state title flicker away
Seyun Park
The Wildcats softball team cries as they walk off the field at Bachman Stadium following their 12-6 loss to the Leonardtown Raiders in the state semifinal. The game was a heartbreaker as the Wildcats choked away the 6-3 lead they had held going into the top of the seventh inning.

For years, every single player on the Walter Johnson High School softball team had one dream: win a state championship. It was a dream they worked, played, cried and lived for. And Tuesday night, May 21 the Wildcats were the closest they’ve ever been to seeing that dream become reality with just two outs separating them and a berth in the Maryland 4A state final.

But dreams are fragile, and the Leonardtown High School Raiders woke the Wildcats from their dream with a 12-6 comeback to erase the 6-3 lead the team had held going into the top of the seventh inning, leaving dirt and dust in the hands that should have been hoisting state silverware.

“I think we all put in a lot of work and effort into the game, and it was really hard fought. It was a very tough loss. It’s sad to think of that because of how close it was, but it doesn’t take away from the amazing season we have had,” sophomore left fielder Abby Koenig said.

Sophomore shortstop Addie Strbak embraces sophomore catcher Alina Bonior after scoring a run to tie the game 3-3 in the bottom of the third inning. (Seyun Park)

Despite the Raiders opening with an early run scored off an error, the two teams would trade the lead back and forth in the beginning of the game. Sophomore shortstop Addie Strbak led off with a single and sophomore third baseman Ella Reynolds hit a home run to give the Wildcats a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning.

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The Raiders made it a 3-2 ball game in the top of the second inning before the Wildcats tied it up in the bottom of the third inning and took a 6-3 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning thanks to a bases-clearing double from senior second baseman Carly Gilder.

“I had been struggling a bit with that pitcher and had finally made the adjustment and it felt great to do something positive for the team,” Gilder said.

Protecting that 6-3 lead was the task at hand for the Wildcats in the top of the sixth and seventh innings. They would get four of the required six outs before a three-run home run from Leonardtown junior Lindsay Hunter in the top of the seventh inning tied up the game once again.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, emotions ran high in the dugout as the Wildcats tried to walk off the game. Despite the Raiders intentionally walking Reynolds, Raiders pitcher junior Claire Radford quickly ended the threat by retiring Strbak, senior pitcher Sami Rosenberg and sophomore catcher Alina Bonior.

“They played great, they did everything right. And so did the other team … we didn’t have the big [seventh] inning, they did, and that’s how it goes sometimes,” head coach Richard Carter said. “The score doesn’t really reflect how the game went. We had them in the seventh, up by three, [Hunter] had a great hit, and then they just kept hitting the ball.” 

In extra innings, what started as a minor hiccup for the Wildcats by giving up a run eventually grew into pure desperation as Hunter drove in another two runs off a single and the team struggled to retire the rallying Raiders.

By the time the dust had settled, the Wildcats had given up four hits and six runs to trail 12-6, and the dream that had once been clear as day had become shrouded by tears and disbelief. As hope gave way to horror and heartbreak, the top of the eighth inning would be the dagger to the heart that left the team reeling.

Senior second baseman Carly Gilder enters her swing. Gilder hit the go-ahead double to give the Wildcats a 6-3 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning. (Seyun Park)

The bottom of the eighth inning ended with four at-bats from four seniors: Gilder, Ellie Langley, Mackenzie Norris and Allie Berube. Norris hit a single while Radford struck out Gilder and Langley, and Berube grounded out in the final at-bats of their high school careers.

Radford threw 117 pitches in total, 91 of which were strikes, combining for 10 strikeouts. In comparison, Rosenberg in her final game for WJ threw 154 pitches and 8 strikeouts while giving up 13 hits.

“[Rosenberg] has pitched for four years, she’s been the one I put out there every time, and I trust her wholeheartedly. And now, I have to move on, and you know, it’ll be tough,” Carter said.

For WJ’s seniors, who played their final game Tuesday, the jarring nature of the game left them in shock and pain.

“[It’s] devastating to leave this team behind. The people on this team are some of the kindest souls you will ever meet and it truly hurts knowing my last season is done,” Gilder said. “It sucks how the season ended but nothing can take away from the memories our team has made along the way.”

Added Langley: “I had more fun this year than I did in all of my years playing high school softball … I loved every second of every game, practice and any time spent with the team.”

Carter, who has seen the team progress from two wins in his first year as coach to finishing this season with the winningest record in school history with 16 wins, also reflected on how the departure of the team’s five seniors hit hard.

“I’m gonna miss them a whole lot. It’s not gonna hit me until later, but they mean a lot to this program. They’re the big reason why they’re as good as they are,” Carter said. “They’ve set the bar high for the future generations.”

Sophomore shortstop Addie Strbak takes a moment to herself, crying on the field where she played out the biggest game of her career. (Seyun Park)

For the team that has accomplished so much in their last four years, falling short so close to the finish line was heartbreaking. The ultimate prize that seemed just within reach shattered before anyone could lay a finger on it, leaving the players to pick up the individual pieces of the dream they once all shared.

Throughout the season and even in their final game, the Wildcats played through just about every injury that they were medically allowed to and overcame every challenge thrown at them — injury and fatigue were never an excuse.

Strbak played through extreme pain after taking a direct hit to the shins from a Leonardtown infielder and still went 3 for 4. Rosenberg, after having pitched 130 pitches the night before in the state quarterfinal, went right back out to the circle to pitch another 150. And the entire team, playing in uncharted territory in their first-ever state semifinal, played confidently, courageously, and with complete conviction.

But ultimately, the injury that ended the Wildcats’ season, and shattered their dream, was the one that went to their heart.

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Seyun Park
Seyun Park, Print Editor-in-Chief
Junior Seyun Park is in his third year of the Pitch, happy to join this year as a Print Editor-in-Chief. Outside of Pitch, Seyun plays tennis and cello, and likes to follow hockey.
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