GLEN BURNIE — Typically one of Frederick County’s strongest softball programs, Linganore got off to a 3-5 start this season.
The Lancers had lost marquee players to graduation and were relying on several freshmen and sophomores to fill voids. Perhaps they weren’t destined to make their usual deep postseason run.
“At the beginning of the season, I was very skeptical,” senior second baseman and leadoff hitter Paige Wilhelm said. “But as the season went on, we really grew as a team and really started to click and support each other. I think we exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
It was hard to argue that point on Tuesday.
Here were the Lancers, back in the state tournament for the fifth time in the past eight seasons, their early-season struggles a distant memory.
But hard-hitting Chesapeake (Anne Arundel) put an end to yet another stellar Linganore season, beating the Lancers 5-0 in the Class 3A state semifinals at the Bachman Sports Complex.
Sure, the Lancers (14-7) were disappointed. But none of them could complain about the strides their young team had made this season.
“There’s been a lot of growing together defensively and really firing up the bats as we progressed through the season, making sure that we didn’t have quit in us at any point in time,” Lancers coach Andrea Poffinberger said. “I very much enjoyed coaching the mix of seniors and young people.”
That mix was on full display on Tuesday. Two Linganore players had two-hit games against solid Chesapeake (20-3) starter Haley Downin. One of them was Wilhelm, and the other was freshman Delaney Ridgell, who doubled.
Wilhelm had been in this type of game before, playing for a program that was a fixture in the regional championship game and reached the state semis in 2017.
But this was a new experience for young players like Ridgell. Back in March, did she envision playing in the state tournament?
“No. At the beginning of the season, it was rough, and I had no idea we were going to be here today,” Ridgell said.
But eventually, she and the other Lancers, no matter what age they were, began to realize they had a chance to go far.
“As soon as playoffs started, and maybe a couple of games before, we started to getting our groove,” Ridgell said.
The Lancers got off to a good start Tuesday when Wilhelm led off the game with a single. But they had trouble stringing together hits against Downin, who finished with eight strikeouts.
“She threw a lot of junk balls, and she did a really good job of disguising them, and she had good movement on her ball,” Wilhelm said. “I don’t think it was anything we couldn’t hit. I just think everybody was kind of overanxious and overthinking.”
Conversely, the Cougars kept getting timely hits to bring in runs, and their contributors came from all parts of the lineup. No. 9 hitter Kexin Wang had the biggest offensive highlight of the night, belting a solo homer over the left-center fence to give Chesapeake a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning.
“I honestly thought the difference-maker in this game was they, one through nine, attacked the ball hitting-wise, and we didn’t necessarily do that,” Poffinberger said.
At times, Chesapeake’s lineup thrived on hustle as much as muscle. In the third, Linganore sophomore shortstop Darbe Reesman stopped Tristyn Stewart’s hard-hit grounder and fired to first, but Stewart beat the throw for an infield hit.
Reesman did exact revenge. After catching Allison Pollack’s hard-hit liner later that inning, the infielder alertly fired to second to double-up Stewart.
By then, any jitters the Lancers might’ve been feeling were gone.
“I know with a young team, you’re always going to have the nerves. I think during warmups, everyone was kind of jittery,” Wilhelm said. “But I think overall we played a really good game. We just didn’t hit the ball as much as they did.”
While the Lancers lose seniors like Wilhelm and Emily Day, their abundance of youth bodes well for the future.
Ridgell and Reesman were two of Linganore’s top hitters this season. And their pitchers were sophomore Jenna McLain, who started Tuesday, and freshman Kelli Durbin.