GLEN BURNIE -- The North Carroll Panthers' bid for a third consecutive state title came to an end yesterday evening, but not without a fight.
The Panthers gave top-seeded and unbeaten Damascus of Montgomery County all it could handle and more before falling, 3-1, in the Class 2A state semifinal at Randazzo Park (formerly known as Upton Park) in Anne Arundel County.
Damascus (17-0) entered the game with a perfect record, largely due to the pitching of Marci Whitehead, who has thrown 10 perfect games and 30 no-hitters in her high school career.
The Panthers were hardly fazed, though, jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the third on the first earned run allowed by Whitehead this year.
The Hornets answered with three in their half of the third, and that's how things would stand.
"I couldn't ask for anything more from our kids; they did a super job," North Carroll Coach Phil Bonnell said.
"She [Whitehead] didn't overpower us. We made contact but couldn't make consistent hard contact on her."
The Panthers got on the board with a manufactured run in the third.
Jenny Baker led off the third by beating out a tapper in front of the plate.
One out later, Jenni Heindel bunted her around to third, and Baker scored on a Tina Martin groundout.
Damascus answered in the third, scoring three runs, capped by Christine Trunnell's two-out, two-run single.
"We were looking for a one- or two-run ballgame," Bonnell said.
"We've had trouble with rough innings all season, and it cost us again."
The Panthers went down swinging in the top of the seventh, but the Damascus defense was up to the task.
Damascus left fielder Michelle Bailey made a diving catch of a Vickie Jackson' line drive to open the inning, then Trunnell snared a line drive by Sherri Martin at second to end it.
"A base hit here and a base hit there and it could have been different," Bonnell said after the game.
Heindel pitched a fine game for the Panthers in Whitehead's shadow, allowing five hits and striking out four.
Whitehead finished with eight strikeouts.
Several weeks ago, it appeared unlikely the Panthers (12-7) would even make it to the state tournament.
After losing several top players to graduation, North Carroll stumbled to a 1-3 record early this season.
But the team came on strong to capture top seed in the Region I tournament, then defeated Southern-Garrett, 18-0, and Glenelg of Howard County, 6-5, in Saturday's region championship game to reach last night's contest.
"The kids never gave up and represented our school very well," Bonnell said.
"They have nothing to be ashamed of and can walk out of here with their heads high."
The top-seeded Hornets will face Elkton of Cecil County, 10-0 winners over Chesapeake of Baltimore County in yesterday's other Class 2A semifinal, in Friday night's championship game.