KENSINGTON — A duel between two elite softball programs in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC), St. Mary’s Ryken High School and Bishop McNamara High School, revealed just how suspenseful conference softball is during the playoffs.
Down 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs, St. Mary’s outfielder Melody Coombs hit a two-run single on a fly ball to left field to help the Knights notch a 3-2 comeback win over Bishop McNamara in the semifinals of the WCAC conference tournament at The Academy of the Holy Cross on May 4.
St. Mary’s (16-2-1) trailed 2-0 for most of the afternoon, but began to chip away in the bottom of the sixth inning thanks to some pivotal at-bats and remarkable fielding.
Kacie Vallandingham led off with a bunt single, followed by a line drive deep to center field by Coombs. Walks by Knights outfielder Cassie Aud and first baseman Kayla Kern led to Vallandingham scoring the Knights’ first run of the game.
With the help of her outfielders, St. Mary’s pitcher Molly Thompson did not allow a hit in the top of the seventh. In the bottom of the inning, Ahmira Miller hit a bunt single, and Reagan Towers followed with an infield single to put the Knights into scoring position. Vallandingham and Jessica Limerick were tagged out at first base after bunt attempts leaving the fate of the game in the hands of Coombs.
After Coombs ripped a fly ball to left field, her team buzzed with excitement as Miller and Towers scrambled to home plate and scored game-clinching runs to help St. Mary’s advance to the conference title game.
“We just fought hard, we wanted it really (bad), and we wouldn’t stop until we got it,” said Coombs, a junior. Her bat made just enough contact with the ball on the game-winning play, she said.
“It hit the inside of my bat. It was just enough.”
Not only did the Knights pick up their ninth consecutive win, but they avenged themselves after losing to the Mustangs on April 1, 3-1, in 11 innings.
“We utilized our short game, and that was really good for us — being able to put bunts down when we needed to,” said St. Mary’s Coach Stephanie Dameron, who was recently named the WCAC Softball Coach of the Year. Dameron also lauded Coombs, who finished 2-for-5 with two RBI and a double.
“She did a good job of not speeding the game up. We talk a lot about slowing the game down when things are really intense so she did a nice job slowing the game down and getting something that she can handle,” Dameron said of Coombs, who received honors as the 2019 WCAC Softball Player of the Year.
McNamara pitcher Bailey Wilcox threw for six and 2/3 innings and yielded three earned runs, seven hits and two walks along with six strikeouts.
“We had a lot of momentum going in the first few innings, and then when they got bases loaded I think the momentum shifted to their end,” Wilcox said. “I was trying my best to do what I could to give the momentum back to us, but we had a quick inning the last inning, and then they (St. Mary’s) just got the best of me.”
The season-ending loss was tough for the Mustangs, but Wilcox already has high expectations for next year, which will be her last season with the program.
“We’re going to get it next year. I’m going to try my hardest, and all season I’m going to get better.”
McNamara scored both of its runs in the top of the second. Outfielder Jaylah Romero-Thompson hit a sacrifice bunt to bring courtesy runner Kaitlynn Devitt and third baseman Akilah Johnson in for runs as the Mustangs took control early in the afternoon.
Bishop McNamara Coach Angelina Diehlmann said the main difference was experience. St. Mary’s, she said, is more experienced in advancing far in the conference tournament.
“That’s the difference between a team who’s experienced in the semis and a team who’s not,” Diehlmann said.
“They (St. Mary’s Ryken) know what that pressure’s like, they know what that whole part is like and it was a little tough for our girls.”
As a team, McNamara finished with four hits and two errors. For the Knights, Thompson pitched all seven innings and allowed two unearned runs, no walks and struck out four.
After coming off a 17-0 shutout win over Good Counsel on April 30, the Mustangs concluded their season with a 15-7 overall record. Despite the tough loss, Diehlmann said she was proud of her team’s season, and saw the loss to St. Mary’s as a valuable learning experience.
“Our girls… They work hard,” Diehlmann said.
“And they all want to come back and be fighting for next year, so that’s what we can take away from this.”
Dameron said her team came out slow in the opening innings but began to really pick it up toward the end, especially in the sixth and seventh inning. The second-year head coach is looking forward to the title game on May 6 against two-time defending champs, Bishop O’Connell.
“We’re really excited for Monday. We like our chances,” Dameron said.
“We’re going to come out here ready to compete and hopefully leave with some hardware.”