With his team down by a run to Northeast going into the bottom of the third inning yesterday, Fairmont Heights softball coach Bob Bradford tried to rally his troops.
"You can play with this team if you are smart," he shouted, pacing the visitors bench as the Eagles prepared to bat.
Moments later, his third-seeded Hornets of Prince George's County were smarting from Northeast's seven-run, seven-hit inning -- the last scoring to take place in the Eagles' 9-1 victory in the Class 2A Region III semifinals.
Second-seeded Northeast (16-3) advances to Saturday's 1 p.m. final at top-seeded Damascus (16-0) of Montgomery County, the team that the Eagles defeated last season, 1-0, for their fourth straight 2A state championship. Damascus toppled fourth-seeded Surrattsville, 15-0, in the other semifinal yesterday.
The Eagles have eliminated Fairmont Heights in three of the last four regional playoffs, including 11-2 two years ago. And during that time, Bradford has gained much respect for Northeast coach Lynn Pitonzo.
"I've always appreciated the coach here. Even though we don't say anything about it, based on her record and the fact she can win state titles, I think she holds back a little bit on us. And I appreciate that," he said.
"Every year, I've been happy with the results. She's never tried to run the score up. I thank her for that every year."
The least of Pitonzo's worries going into the third inning was keeping down the score. Northeast had pushed across single runs in the first two innings, but the Hornets (10-6) parlayed a walk and two errors into a run in the top of the third.
Gwendolyn Quarles followed with a two-out single -- the Hornets' first hit -- and stole second, but Northeast pitcher Stacy Reynolds (12-3) retired Leslie Yates on a pop-up.
Then came the decisive third, when 11 batters came to the plate against Yates. Jen Vickery (3-for-4), Rae Ann Dettrey and Reynolds singled in one run each, and Shannon McCausey singled to score two more.
Velvet Farrell tripled in a run, and a wild pitch scored another.
Reynolds allowed only one hit the rest of the way and retired the last 10 batters. She walked one and struck out seven, while throwing 92 pitches. The Hornets made good contact against her, however, a moral victory of sorts.
"I know a lot of her pitches weren't working, so she had to dig in and do something else," Pitonzo said. "She dug in."
Northeast had 15 hits off Yates, who doesn't throw in the familiar windmill style.
"We were prepared for it," said sophomore Loren Bailey, who posted her second consecutive four-hit game. "We knew we could hit her."
"You just have to wait longer," said Reynolds, who had two hits. "A lot of us are used to fast windmillers."
Northeast scored an unearned run in the first inning. Farrell reached on a one-out error, and Reynolds followed with a bunt single. First baseman Kisha Butler threw wide trying to nab Farrell going to third, and the Eagles had a 1-0 lead.
It became 2-0 an inning later on singles by Bailey, Vickery and Dettrey and a bases-loaded walk to Jen Johansen.
"This team's always strong," Bradford said. "I was expecting the pitching to be a little bit faster. That's what we prepared for. Other than that, the result was about what I expected."