OWINGS MILLS – After Jackie Smith struck out at the final pitch of the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland’s (IAAM) 2019 Softball B-Conference Softball Championships on May 11, emotions began to pour out of the eyes of the St. Vincent Pallotti players.
Everything was flowing together like a sports fairy tale: the Panthers had bounced back after a 2-11 record and a last-place finish in the IAAC in 2018 to being one step away of becoming softball champions this year.
However, their dream season would be denied by an eight-strikeout performance pitcher Kathe Hobbs. The sophomore, who was dealing with a week-long illness, gave up only four hits and allowed one run in leading St. Paul’s School for the Girls to their first IAAM Championship since 2012, defeating Pallotti 4-1, ending their season undefeated.
It was a roller coaster ride for the Panthers (13-3) after starting the year behind, with their preseason workouts starting in January. First-year Head Coach Lauren Donaldson, who is also the former head coach for Howard University, was able to bring together the 11-player roster of mostly of juniors and sophomore players to rattle off a second-place conference finish (7-2) coming into the tournament.
“We put this together in a very short amount of time,” Donaldson said. “To be honest, I had no expectations (for this season); we really wanted to come out and try and I think through the course of the season, the girls started to believe in themselves and they showed it out on the field.”
Both teams faced each other in their IAAM opener, with the Gators (12-0) coming away with a 7-6 extra-innings win. In the final, Pallotti sophomore pitcher Ysabella Monzon-Osorio entered a jam in the second inning after hitting batter Ayanna Gould with a pitch, setting up an RBI double to Anna Hjortsberg to give St. Paul’s an early lead.
Two batters later, infielder Maressa Cuthrell successful connected a bunt to drive in the Gators second run of the game. Catcher Abbi Klein followed up with a hard-hit single that Panthers infield could not control, driving in another run for St. Paul in the second inning.
Freshman Kiara James connected with a single in the top of the third to get Pallotti back in the game. Her base-running helped her steal second base and take advantage of a groundout to move into scoring position. A wild pitch by Hobbs allowed the freshman to steal home for the Panthers only run of the game.
Monzon-Osorio tried to keep Pallotti in the game with strong pitching in the later innings, finishing with three strikeouts in the losing effort. The sophomore admitted that while they had a successful regular season, nerves did creep in the clubhouse, leading to errors on the defense side of the ball.
“I think we were a little too jittery, a little too anxious,” sophomore infielder Colby Cureton said. “I think this was the game where being relaxed was the key and that is the only think that needs to be adjusted in the future.”
Senior shortstop Emily Issing fired off a single past the Pallotti infield in the bottom of the fourth, allowing the Gators to drive in their fourth run and increasing their lead to three. Pallotti threatened to score in the top of the fifth inning with two runners on base. However, Hobbs escaped by forcing a flyout and striking out senior Coreena Brogden.
The sophomore ended her championship day by making quick work of the last six Panther batters in the final two innings. Following her final strikeout, Hobbs, still feeling the effects of the cold-like symptoms, was unable to be visibility happy about the win but was proud to avenge for St. Paul’s loss in last year’s championship game.
“It feels good to win,” Hobbs said. “I’ve been sick all week but I would do anything for my teammates; we had an undefeated season and it has been fun to win.”
For Pallotti, the loss was painful but an important one, Donaldon told her team in the final one. This season was the transition year and next year will be one to show where the Panthers are in terms of their growth as a team. Despite the tears rolling down their faces, the Panthers were confident that would return to the championship game next season.
“For sure, I think next season, we will win,” Monzon-Osorio said. “Mark my words, we will win next season. We will get new girls next season and I think we have already grown into a strong team with a strong group of people.”