HANCOCK — Long and successful softball seasons can take strange turns at times.
With her team sitting in the school’s parking lot midday Monday, waiting for a bus that was roughly an hour late, Catoctin softball coach Jess Valentine realized her players were missing their opportunity to have lunch.
So, through the power of modern technology, she grabbed her cell phone, placed a large order at a Subway in Hancock and picked it up right before her team arrived at the high school in town for the Class 1A West championship game against Mountain Ridge.
A few hours later, with the Cougars closing in on their fourth trip to the state semifinals in eight seasons, pitcher Grace Mazaleski had the glove taken off her hand by a sharp drive back to the circle.
As she quickly scrambled to field the ball, she noticed a Mountain Ridge baserunner was leaning a little too far off of third base. So, instead of going to first for the sure out, conventional wisdom that had been ingrained in her over the years, she flipped the ball over to Raegan Smith at third to pick off the overly ambitious runner.
That marked the second out of the top of the seventh inning and helped to short-circuit a late rally by Mountain Ridge.
Whatever curveballs are thrown its way, this Catoctin softball team (18-5) handles them as well as anyone. The Cougars don’t sweat the small stuff, and that’s largely the reason they were able to beat Mountain Ridge 6-2 to head to Tuesday’s 4 p.m. state semifinal against Sparrows Point at Bachman Sports Complex in Glen Burnie.
Watch a four-run lead disappear in the late stages of the Central Maryland Conference championship game against Linganore? No problem. Just rally to tie the game in the final at-bat before scoring two more in extra innings to claim the championship.
A late bus causing you to miss lunch? No worries. Just wolf down a quick sandwich prior to the the first pitch.
An opposing team mounting a late threat? Not an issue. Just make a quick heads-up play to nab an overzealous runner for a critical out.
And don’t complain very much about it throughout the process.
“I just believe the teammates behind me are going to make the play,” Mazaleski, one of four seniors on the team, said while clutching the team’s stuffed Shark of the Day, awarded after every game to an exemplary performer.
The shark is a reminder to keep the gaze forward, block out any distractions and aggressively go after a goal or a target.
Mazaleski, not known to show much emotion or appear rattled when she pitches, turned in her finest outing of the season against Mountain Ridge, according to coaches and teammates.
She had more strikeouts (four) than hits allowed (two) through the first six innings.
“The way her pitches were moving, she was hitting her spots a lot,” senior catcher Maddie Krantz said. “Today was one of her best days, definitely.”
Staked to a big early lead, Mazaleski was able to settle into a nice groove without feeling the typical pressure of a regional final.
She was able to work around a two-out walk in the first and a leadoff single in the third to keep the Mountain Ridge bats at bay.
“I was just trying to keep myself cool and confident throughout the game, even when it got difficult in the end,” Mazaleski said.
Trailing 6-0 in the seventh, Mountain Ridge loaded the bases thanks to a pair of singles and a fielding error.
Then, the Miners’ No. 9 hitter, Makayla Alexander, knocked a two-run double to right-center field to ignite a small spark.
But then Mazaleski made the nice play on the line drive by leadoff hitter Maddi Rounds that took off her glove before freezing Madison Cesnick with an elevated pitch for the game-ending strikeout.
“She was hitting her spots,” Valentine said of Mazaleski. “She wasn’t even getting some calls that I thought she should have been getting. She did her job.”
The Cougars’ bats did their job, too.
Freshman shortstop Courtney Eyler led off the game with a triple and promptly scored when the next batter, Ashley Mayton, singled.
As part of a four-run second inning, Eyler drove in two with a single, while Mayton and Raegan Smith each knocked in one.
Then, in the sixth, sophomore Kassidy Tobery brought home a run with a single.
“We had really good at-bats,” Valentine said. “We had an opportunity to score more runs than we actually did.”
To that point, Catoctin had two runners thrown out at home plate.