Easton's late rally sinks Atholton's bid for state title

Two-run seventh frustrates Raiders, 2-1

State Class 2A softball

May 27, 2000|By Stan Rappaport | Stan Rappaport,SUN STAFF

Three outs away. That's how close Atholton was last night at Randazzo Park to giving Howard County its first state softball championship.

The Raiders entered the top of the seventh against Easton with a one-run lead. When Atholton finally got the third out, however, the Warriors had sent six players to the plate and scored twice. Atholton went down in order in the bottom half of the inning, and the Warriors from Talbot County had a 2-1 victory in the Class 2A final and their first state championship.

"It really stings," said Atholton coach John Zitko, whose team was the eighth from Howard County to play in a final. "Hopefully, you take the experience and grow from it."

As happened in their 1-0 semifinal win over Catonsville in the semifinals, the Raiders had trouble putting hits together, and scored their lone run in the third inning on a sacrifice fly. Sophomore Karen Lee had a leadoff triple and scored on Tiffany Mathis' fly out to center field. On the play, however, Jen Poston, who tagged up from first, overran second base and was caught for the final out of the inning.

It was one of three times the Raiders (22-4) had runners cut down on the bases. Mathis, who had two hits, was caught stealing in the first, and Katie Zitnay was picked off first by the catcher after a leadoff single in the fourth.

Zitnay, the Raiders' outstanding pitcher, played in pain the entire game. While taking her warm-up pitches on the mound in the first inning, she felt something pull in the middle of her back.

"It really hurts," Zitnay said after the game. "It affected my pitching, but I'm not making excuses."

Zitnay, who put ice on her back every inning, limited the Warriros (21-2) to three hits through six innings. But in the seventh, it was evident that Zitnay was uncomfortable.

"In the seventh inning I just couldn't take anymore," Zitnay said.

Jen Doty opened the Easton seventh with a single to right, then cleanup hitter Kelsey Payne singled on a 1-2 pitch to left field to put runners on first and second. Easton substituted both players at that time with faster runners.

Zitnay got two quick strikes on Amy Cross, but the third pitch landed over the first baseman and into right field. Brittany Smith scored to tie the game and Kate Ewing moved from first to third and Cross went to second when right fielder Aubrey Barrett misplayed the ball.

The next batter, Amber Starkey, on a 1-2 count, swung hard only to have the ball land inches in front of the plate. Catcher Sarah Costa wasted no time and threw to first for the first out. Ewing never tried to score from third.

Sara Shelly then put down a bunt in front of the plate. This time Costa grabbed the ball, looked briefly at Ewing and again threw to first for the out. But Ewing was more than halfway down the line when Costa looked at her, and she scored easily to put Easton ahead.

"I was three-fourths down the line," Ewing said. "If she had run me back I probably would have been out because I went too far."

Costa, an all-county catcher, realized her mistake.

"I went for the out instead of the winning run," Costa said. "Afterward, it was like, `I should have faked to first and went and got her. We had her nailed.' But I didn't."

Said Zitko: "That's just nerves, because 99 out of 100 times she's going to make the right play."

Unlike the regionals, where the Raiders scored 40 runs, they were handcuffed in the states. Easton pitcher Cyndi Swann scattered six hits, only one in the last three innings.

"The defense was there, the pitching was there, but our hitting wasn't there," said Zitko.

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