GLEN BURNIE — Two years to the day after North Carroll participated in its most infamous softball contest, the Panthers held on for one of the most exciting wins in their storied state tournament history.
North Carroll built an early 5-1 lead at the state Class 3A title game Friday night at Upton Park in this Anne Arundel County community, then held offtwo Elkton rallies to defend its crown with a 5-4 victory.
That game two years ago, thought to be the longest in state history, was a 23-inning, 2-1 semifinal loss in the 1989 Class 3A tournament.
Opposing pitcher Michelle Collins of Surrattsville High in Prince George's County fanned 53 batters in that game.
The contest was so noteworthy it wound up as the May 24 entry in a national desk calendar called "The Official 365 Sports Facts A Year 1991 Calendar.
It also is the only loss in seven trips to the state tournament for the Panthers.
"They have determination," Panthers coach Phil Bonnell said after his team captured its sixth state title.
"When they get to the states, they feel, 'We've made it this far, why stop now?'"
They appeared to have that same spirit early in Friday night's game, but their offense died after the second inning and the defense had an uncharacteristic lapse in the fifth.
North Carroll opened a5-1 lead after the top of the second, the key blow being a two-run double by shortstop Sandy Johnson in the second. She also had a run-producing triple in the first inning.
Michelle Ament started the game in strong form, throwing her first 15 pitches for strikes. But a wild pitch, a single and a passed ball allowed Elkton to forge a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
The Panthers faltered a little in the field in the top of the third when two unearned runs scored. They also were a bit lucky in the fifth, when they made five errors on two batters, but allowed only one run.
The Panthers also turned in several outstanding defensive plays, including an unusual third-to-first-to-home double play in the fifth and two outstanding catches in the sixth.
"They're just tough competitors," Bonnell said of his squad, which finished the season at 18-4, including two losses to state Class 4Afinalist Frederick. "They never give up."
Ironically, North Carroll scored all of its runs off Golden Elks starting pitcher Katie Link, the southpaw who had come in and shut them down for the last two innings in last year's state title game between the same two clubs.
And the Panther's bats fell silent against Jen Weaver, last year's starter who came on in relief this year. Weaver shut out North Carroll for five innings Friday.
Why did Elkton's pitchers have a reversalof fortune this year?
"I really can't answer that," Bonnell said."The girls got some really good shots off (Link)."
Weaver also paced Elkton offensively, belting two triples, scoring once and drivingin one run. The Golden Elks ended the season with a 19-2 record.