Now that the Chesapeake softball team has qualified for the state playoffs, the road to the championship has grown even more treacherous.
Or has it.
"This will be the toughest game we play," said Cougars senior first baseman Stacey Matcuk, after her top-seeded team had downed No. 2 Glen Burnie, 5-1, in the Class 4A Region IV finals Saturday morning.
"In the states, it's usually a cake walk. Nobody compares to Anne Arundel County in softball, so we should kick some butt in the states."
Matcuk should know.
The Cougars (18-3) won the title in 1988and 1990, and they're making their fourth appearance in the states in five years with tomorrow's 8 p.m. semifinal game at Upton Park.
The championship game is Friday night at Upton.
Matcuk, who singled twice and knocked in a run Saturday, isn't alone in her critique ofthe upcoming tournament.
"I have no idea what's out in the state this year, but if the last three or four years is any indication, it's not the competition we played today," said Chesapeake coach Dennis Thiele.
"I told (Glen Burnie coach) Bob Broccolino, and he agreed,that this was the state game today, as far as we were concerned. He could take his team into the state playoffs and he could win. There'sno doubt in my mind."
He won't get that chance.
A pitching duel between Chesapeake's Amy Jakubowski and Glen Burnie's Mandy Albrecht left the game scoreless through four innings.
But after the Gophers (16-4) squandered a Lee Mallonee lead-off single in the top of the fifth, the Cougars plated two runs in the bottom half of the inningon successive bunts by Nancy Yeager and Natalie Black that scored runners from third.
On both occasions, a Glen Burnie fielder electedto throw to first, rather than trying to catch the runner between third and home.
"We've practiced that play many times," Broccolino said. "(Third baseman)Melanie Scharf is the best player I've ever had making that fake. And Mandy, too. They both should have faked and they didn't. But that's what happens when you have 16- and 17-year-old kids playing.
"But you can't fault them. The bunts were good."
So was Glen Burnie's resiliency. The visitors fought back for a run inthe sixth and had the bases loaded with two outs, but Scharf grounded to second baseman Becky Thiele to end the inning.
The key play in the game may have been Dennis Thiele's decision to intentionally walk Mallonee to load the bases with two outs and Chesapeake ahead, 2-1. The junior catcher already had two hits off Jakubowski, and with runners on second and third, could have given Glen Burnie the lead.
"I know she would have gotten another base hit and driven in two runs," Broccolino said. "Lee was hot today. She's been swinging a good bat for the last month. I just felt real confident she was going to geta base hit."
So did Thiele. "She stroked the ball well both times. I'm not going to give her the chance to do that again. She owned Amy today," he said.
The Cougars put the game out of reach in the sixth, parlaying a walk and five straight singles into three runs.
Jakubowski (8-2), pitching with a tender right arm, allowed five hits and struck out eight.
"I felt like I was on at the beginning of the game," she said, "but I was getting kind of tired at the end, so I knew I had to move the ball around."
CP: Chesapeake pitcher Amy Jakubowski reacts to getting the last Glen Burnie batter out in the 4A regional title game Saturday.