One thing was apparent from the start of yesterday's Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference softball championship game: Seton Keough was accustomed to winning, while upstart John Carroll was still getting used to the idea.
The No. 1 Gators started fast with two first-inning runs and turned the game over to senior pitcher Carly Martin and her defense, making the lead stand to come away with a 2-0 win over the No. 11 Patriots at Harford Community College.
Martin allowed five hits and struck out 14 - showing poise when needing the big out - and Seton Keough (15-3) won the program's second league championship.
The Patriots (10-7) were making their first appearance in the title game after upsetting two-time league champion Archbishop Spalding in the semifinals.
Late in the season, Seton Keough coach Dave Bowyer continually preached the importance of early runs and even told his Gators if they scored first, they would win yesterday.
It didn't take long for that to happen.
In the bottom of the first, leadoff hitter Kathy McLaughlin got an infield single and took second on a throwing error. After Carly Read hit a bunt single, Martin hit a sacrifice fly to drive home McLaughlin for a 1-0 lead. Third baseman Meghan Kovacs followed with a liner up the middle to make it 2-0.
After reaching the championship game but falling short against Spalding last season, the Gators made sure to use that experience this spring, with a strong senior class led by Martin, McLaughlin and Kovacs the starting point.
"From the beginning, Dave told us this was our season and we were going to take this team somewhere," Martin said. "I think we had it set in our minds that we had to win a championship and wouldn't have it any other way. And with that, we just took it one game at a time and here we are."
The Patriots had chances, stranding eight runners, but Martin wouldn't give in. Their best opportunity came in the fifth with runners on second and third and one out, but Martin struck out Kristen Novak and Angela DiBeneditto to end the threat. With two runners on in the seventh, she got Novak swinging to end the game.
John Carroll coach Sherry Hudson said nerves definitely factored in early stages, but the Patriots still had plenty to be proud of. They ended Seton Keough's 13-game winning streak in the final week of the season and then beat Spalding for the first time in school history to reach the title game.
"We put together a great string together with wins over some top teams in the state, so we were really happy about that. We were peaking at the right time, but we just couldn't put it together today," Hudson said. "It's disappointing because I think we didn't play as well as we know we can play."
Maryvale 4, McDonogh 3 -- The Lions (15-3) rallied from a 3-0 deficit with three runs in the sixth and went on to capture their third straight conference crown on Courtney Loraditch's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth inning. Junior pitcher Heather Peluso got the win in relief - with three scoreless innings - and she singled and scored in the three-run sixth. McDonogh, which moved down from the A Conference this spring, closed out its season with a 15-5 mark. "To win three straight is great, and this one was the toughest with the realignment," said Maryvale coach Tim Messina. "This was a great accomplishment. At the beginning of the season, our goal was to just get to the championship game."
Towson Catholic 6, St. Paul's 1 -- Freshman Jessica Butler pitched a no-hitter and struck out 16 to lead the Owls (13-1) to their first conference crown since 1998. The Owls scored four runs in the first, with Butler driving in one with a double and Tracy Johns following with a two-RBI double. "We're usually a slow-starting team - not getting going until the fourth inning, so it was very big to come around early. On the bus ride coming over, we talked about coming out with early intensity," said Towson Catholic coach Wayne Smith.email@example.com