North Carroll came up with clutch hits, strong pitching and good defense in each of its first two playoff victories. The No. 11 Panthers added something new yesterday.
The big inning.
North Carroll broke the game open with a five-run third inning, and Kandi Lippy threw a two-hitter as the Panthers rolled over Lackey, 9-0, in a Class 2A state semifinal yesterday at Randazzo Park.
The Panthers will make their seventh trip to the state championship game on Friday at 6 p.m. at Randazzo Park when they play Parkside, a 16-2 winner over Chesapeake of Baltimore County. North Carroll is 6-for-6 in state title games.
For North Carroll (15-5), this game strongly resembled its victories over Middletown and Walkersville last weekend. The Panthers came up with key hits, made only one error and did what was necessary to win.
"I think [the team] has been more focused," said North Carroll coach Rich Harvey. "This Friday is the ultimate prize as far as high school softball goes and they're just concentrating better."
North Carroll wasted scoring chances in each of the first two innings, but the Panthers broke through in the top of the third.
The Panthers loaded the bases with one out for Laura Watson, who ripped a line drive off first baseman Mandy Dearring's glove and down the right-field line for a two-run double. Jen Rongione then grounded to shortstop Emily Adams, whose throw home was too late to catch Christina Crouse.
Kara Mercer then walked to load the bases again, and that was all for Lackey starter Kari Dearring. Barbie Jackson greeted reliever Emily Wilkerson with a single to right to make it 4-0, and Kathleen Tunney grounded out to drive in the fifth run.
Kari Dearring struggled throughout her stint. The freshman had good speed, but could not find the plate, walking six in 2 1/3 innings.
Lippy, meanwhile, was cruising. The senior right-hander gave up two singles in the third inning but nothing else, striking out seven.
Lackey (16-5) had its best threat in the top of the first when Lippy hit Mandy Dearring and then walked Adams with one out. But Lippy struck out the next two batters.
Lippy allowed only two base runners in the final four innings, and Lackey hit only three balls out of the infield the entire game.
"We just all came together as a team," said Lippy, who has allowed one run in 21 innings in the playoffs. "We all wanted so bad to get to the states."
Despite its strong desire, North Carroll has stayed loose. The Panthers have made only three errors in three games -- after having errors cause four of their five losses.
"When we got here, we were relaxed and concentrating," said North Carroll first baseman Jill Ballard. "That's what's helping us the most."
Ballard has been helping the Panthers the most at the plate. She went 3-for-4 yesterday -- after going 4-for-6 with four RBIs in the first two games. Two of her three hits yesterday set up runs.
Becky Bosley (2-for-3) and Rongione (2-for-4, two runs, two RBIs) also had multi-hit games. Each North Carroll starter reached base at least once, and the Panthers finished with 12 hits.
"They had good pitching, and the defense was playing solid," said Lackey coach Terri St. Clair.
"We didn't get many hits. [Lippy] kept the ball down, and did a nice job."