Even if it took perfection to reach the state title game, Mount Hebron's Jenny Joyce was prepared to deliver -- and she did.
Joyce pitched a perfect game to lead the No. 13 Vikings to a 5-0 win over top-seeded Seneca Valley last night in a state Class 3A semifinal at Randazzo Park in Severn.
"There aren't words to describe the feeling," said Joyce, who did not realize what was happening until the sixth inning. "I wasn't expecting it. I just wanted to win, and my teammates came through defensively and offensively."
Several big defensive plays preserved the perfect game, including center fielder Heather Cole's running catch on a sinking fly ball and first baseman Lauren Abicht's grab on a line drive off the first Screaming Eagles batter.
Shortstop Sarah Eberhart ended the game with a routine pickup on Tricia Hunt's sharp grounder and Abicht made a nice stretch to assure the out.
"Right when I went to throw it, I dropped back or I slipped in the dirt a little bit," said Eberhart. "My throw was off somehow, so it scared me, but Lauren did a great job."
The Vikings had little trouble hitting Eagles ace Tricia Hunt as they smacked nine hits -- all singles. Most were bloopers to the edge of the the outfield grass.
Becky Miller gave the Vikings a 1-0 edge in the fourth inning on one of those bloop singles.
With two out in the fifth, the Vikings got three more runs on RBI singles from Eberhart and Kathy Kiersarsky (two RBIs). Deanne Breithaupt drove in the fifth run in the sixth inning.
The fourth-seeded Vikings (15-6) will try to become the first Howard County team to win a state softball championship when they make their second straight appearance in the title game. They will meet third-seeded McDonough for the title Friday night at 8:30 at Randazzo Park.
Joyce, a senior right-hander, pitched one other perfect game this season, but this was her first against a high-caliber opponent. In their regional final Monday, the Eagles (16-3) had knocked off Thomas Johnson, the team that beat the Vikings in last year's state title game.
"We've been on the other side of those against lesser competition," said Seneca Valley coach Larry Raum, who watched Hunt pitch two perfect games this season.
"That girl did a [great] job. We're a good team and they made us look bad. I hope they win it. If I'm going to lose, I want to lose to the state champions."
All of Joyce's pitches were working last night, including a few she threw in at the last minute.
"I wanted to keep them off balance," said Joyce, who struck out nine. "I used a couple pitches I haven't used all season. I figured I needed a little bit more to throw them off. When I threw them in warm-ups, they were really on, so I just stuck with everything and they didn't know what was coming."
Joyce said she wasn't nervous, but she started throwing a few more balls in the sixth inning.
"They were crowding on the plate and it was harder to get it in. The first base coach had picked up some of my pitches, and she had the batters lay off of some of my pitches that were called for strikes. That worked out really nice," said Joyce, who is headed for Villanova next year.
Eberhart helped Joyce out in that inning, making a quick pick-up and throw on a line drive that caromed off Joyce's glove.
In the seventh inning, Joyce struck out Danny Kavanaugh and went to 3-2 on Lisa O'Connor before O'Connor hit an easy grounder to second baseman Breithaupt.