Injuries have plagued the Glen Burnie softball team so often this season that Coach Bob Broccolino has a running joke about "praying for rain" to give his players time to heal.
The sun was out for yesterday's Class 4A Region IV semifinal game against Severna Park -- but so was second baseman Michelle Ackerman, Broccolino's best hitter witha .492 average.
Yet as they have all season, the No. 2-seeded Gophers (16-3) found a way to win.
"It seems like we've only been at full strength when we've played the weaker teams, and now Ackerman is out for the year" with an injured left knee, said Broccolino, whose Gophers blanked the Falcons, 4-0, in their quest for their third state title after winning in 1986 and 1989.
Glen Burnie next faces top-seeded defending state champion Chesapeake, which won, 4-0, over Old Mill, in a gametentatively set for 11 a.m. tomorrow.
"We pulled it out again because, like it's happened all year, someone always comes through," Broccolino said. "Somebody always comes up with a big game."
Senior pitching ace Mandy Albrecht (10-3) rose to the occasion to have her best game of the year, working the plate well on her way to striking out 13 batters -- 10 of them swinging -- for a no-hit victory.
And junior Michelle Hammerbacher, subbing for Ackerman, was in on the Gophers' second and third runs. Her second-inning, one-out single to right center scored Melanie Scharf to give the home team a 2-0 lead. She then crossed the plate in the same inning on Carrie Lippert's shot toleft.
"I knew coming into the game I had to play my heart out," Hammerbacher said. "Michelle got hurt in the first inning when we played Severna Park the last time (a 13-0 Gophers win), and I had to fillher shoes then. I felt I owed it to her today. Michelle's great, andwe thought we had to win this game for her."
Just prior to the start of the game, Coach Paul Yannuzzi gave his third-seeded Falcons animpassioned speech about trying to gain "a quick 1- or 2-0 lead to get things going."
But after the first Falcon batter, Shanni Cannon, reached on an error by third baseman Scharf, the next three SevernaPark players were out on two pop-ups and a fielder's choice.
To make matters worse, it was the Gophers who capitalized on an error to go up, 1-0, in their half of the inning. With runners on second and third and no outs, Kerri Schmale -- blinded by the sun -- dropped Heather Smith's routine fly ball as Erin Sutton scored.
Hurler Jen Spampinato (seven hits, three strikeouts, two walks) struck out the nextbatter before Cannon caught a pop-up and tagged the runner out at third to get the Falcons out of the inning.
Severna Park couldn't answer in the top of the second when all three batters went down swinging against Albrecht. She also struck out three straight in the fourth.
"My pitches worked today," said Albrecht, a senior, who had not pitched in 10 days. "I thought I would be rusty, but I felt good before the game. I put them everywhere -- low, high, all the corners. They were never in one spot at any time."
Albrecht, who threw 94 pitches, credited catcher Lee Mallonee with calling a solid game, saying,"I have 100 percent faith in her."
Said Mallonee: "I just tried to mix the pitches up, and she threw everything great today with a lotof velocity."
Stacey Jordan scored the Gophers' final run on a wild pitch in bottom of the sixth.
The Falcons finished the season at 14-5. Spampinato, a freshman who lost for only the fifth time in 16starts, is just one of several underclassmen who will return to whatshould be a talented Falcons' squad next season.
"I lose one person, my shortstop (Cannon)," said Yannuzzi, whose Falcons won a state title in 1987. "This team wasn't supposed to make the playoffs, and we made the playoffs. We went one game farther than anybody else thought we would go. I thought the girls hung in there and didn't put their heads down. They battled to the very end."