At the start of the seventh inning, the Chesapeake softball team wasprotecting a 3-0 lead and appeared on the verge of avenging an earlier 4-3 extra-inning loss to Severna Park.
More importantly, the Cougars' ace right-hander Amy Jakubowski was nearing her second career perfect game and her fifth victory in seven starts.
Jakubowski held on for the 3-0 perfect-game win, but the final inning offered some tense moments and some ominous similarities to the first meeting. In that game, Jakubowski had a no-hitter going for five innings before getting rocked for a loss by the Falcons.
So whencatcher Stacey Grokas walked out to the mound at the start of the final inning and gave Jakubowski a quick hug, one could almost read thecatcher's lips as she muttered this simple advice:
"You've got a perfect game going, we're going to do it this time," said Grokas, whomissed the previous game due to illness. "Just throw hard, that's all."
On the Falcons' bench, however, Severna Park coach Paul Yanuzzi was hoping to pull another rabbit from the hat.
"Just one hit --that's what happened the last time," he kept telling his squad, which dropped to 11-2 and has just one senior.
"Amy had it going then and our fourth batter got a triple and our confidence built up," he said. "I just kept telling them that if you can get one hit, the rest will fall. But it didn't happen this time."
Shani Cannon, the Falcons' leadoff hitter, stepped to the plate and immediately signaled her intentions of carrying out her coach's plans and ruining Jakubowski's day.
Cannon's first shot sailed down the third-base line -- butit was foul. Her next hovered high in the air, drifted to left-center and was difficult to get under. But center fielder Stacey Necessarywas there to makethe grab.
Jakubowski then whiffed Dana Gosewischfor the second time, getting her eighth strikeout of the day and her66th on the season, before Christine Winters popped up to first baseman Stacey Matcuk.
"I knew they would come out to get me that inning, but I wanted to keep my no-hitter going this time," said Jakubowski, whothrew 70 pitches and entered the game with an 0.95 earned-run average. "I felt really strong, and since they beat us before, we were really pumped up. We came off a loss to them and Glen Burnie, and Ithink we really had to prove something to ourselves."
Coach Dennis Thiele had a lot to do with that, allowing his two-time defending Class4A champion squad to absorb the pressure of the two losses and channeling it against the Falcons.
"In '88, we won the state title when we had to win the last five games to just make the playoffs. I hate to put pressure on the kids, but I knew they were capable of anything," said Thiele. "So I told them, 'Today is the game that you have to prove you belonged in the state championship game. Because if you lose today, it might tell you that maybe you don't.' "
Jakubowski and Grokas had workedhard to get the victory offensively as well.
Jakubowski (2-for-3 at the plate), the No. 3 batter, nailed a first-inning, two-run homer, which gave the Cougars a 2-0 lead. Grokas followed with a right-field bloop single before manufacturing the third run by advancing to third on an error and scoring on a double steal.
Chesapeake (11-4 overall) moved into a first-place tie with the Falcons in the county's 4A Bay Division with a 7-1 record.
With Grokasback in the lineup, the Cougars were flawless to the point of makingthe game boring. They took just one hour and 15 minutes to finish off the Falcons and hand freshman hurler Jen Spampinato (five strikeouts, three hits, two walks) her second loss in 13 starts.
Wendy Snyder and Alicia Conine had the best chances of reaching base for Severna Park in the fifth inning. But Jakubowski tagged out Snyder after grabbing her slow roller down the first-base line, and Conine's hard grounder was scooped up by shortstop Jamie Long, whose relay to first was nearly in the dirt before Matcuk stretched to grab it.
"We had our starting defense back this time, and that just pumped everybody up," Grokas said. "I tell you, I was calling risers and they just couldn't handle them -- at all."
"Getting that hit in the first inning, that really felt great," said Jakubowski. "But this perfect game makes it even better."