For six innings yesterday, North Carroll played the kind of softball coach Rich Harvey said was needed to get past a good Damascus team.
It was the other inning -- a disastrous seven-run third -- that proved to be the difference as top-seeded Damascus advanced to the Class 2A West Region final with a 9-5 win over North Carroll.
It's the third straight year the Panthers have been eliminated by the Hornets in postseason play. The first two came in the state semifinals, but with the regions realigned this year, the Panthers took an uncharacteristic early exit from the playoffs. It's the first time since 1988 the Panthers haven't reached the state playoffs.
The Panthers (11-7) took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the third. But Damascus sent 10 batters to the plate, scoring seven runs on four hits, two walks, a Panther error and some poor defensive decisions.
"The one inning killed us," Harvey said. "They started off with a couple of hits, and then we helped them. You can't give a quality team five or six outs in an inning like we gave them. They're too good a team to do that."
Meagan Sidorick started the inning with an infield single, and Michele Dick hit a bloop single behind second. Shannon Burns then hit a sharp grounder to second baseman Casey Rhoten, who threw late to get the lead runner at third.
With the bases loaded, Laura Emory grounded up the middle off pitcher Kandi Lippy to shortstop Christina Crouse, whose throw to third was juggled by Jen Rongione.
That scored Sidorick to make it 4-1, and Damascus scored six more runs to make it 7-4. Pitcher Christine Trunnell lined a single to score two and Sidorick drove in two more with a liner just under the glove of Rhoten at second.
The Panthers didn't have much difficulty hitting Trunnell, who came into the game with a 13-3 mark and a 0.46 ERA.
They outhit the Hornets 9-8, but couldn't string hits together after falling behind.
They got to Trunnell with two runs in the second. Catcher Teresa Mays led off with a single, stole second and scored one out later on Rhoten's single up the middle.
Rhoten scored from third with two outs when Laura Watson's grounder to short was mishandled.
The Panthers added two more in the third to make it 4-0.
Crouse singled with one out. Jill Ballard then hit a grounder to third, who threw to second with no one covering. That scored Crouse, and Ballard scored on a single by Lippy.
"I was thankful we were up 4-0," Harvey said. "We hadn't been hitting the ball very well lately, and then we jumped out to the lead and I'm thinking 'great.' Then the one bad inning where we just fell apart with some mental errors and just couldn't come back from it."
Sidorick's single to right scored two to give the Hornets a 9-4 lead in the fifth.
The Panthers came back with one in the sixth when Kathleen Tunney's second hit -- a single -- scored Rhoten.