When the Annapolis Area Christian School softball team fell behind 1-0 in the first inning of the IAAM B Conference championship game against McDonogh on May 13, only one thing was certain.
Win or lose, nobody was going to stop the AACS Eagles from having fun.
Whether their laughing, high-fiving ways were the cause or the result of their subsequent play may be known only to the players and coaches, but the smiles and competitive joy kept coming as AACS stormed back ahead to take a 3-1 lead and never trail again, holding on for an 8-7 victory and the school’s first Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland softball championship.
“That honestly is the character of this team,” said senior outfielder Kaelin Hursh, one of five seniors on the team. “That’s who we are. When we’re having fun and we’re cheering and glorifying God, we know that we’re playing our hardest. Whether we win or lose, we know that God gave us the ability to play, and we just need to have fun.”
First-year Head Coach Jacque Middlebrooks applauded her Eagles’ mettle as they fended off several McDonogh rallies to hold on for the championship win.
“Our girls stayed focused,” said Middlebrooks, whose Eagles saw McDonogh load the bases in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings and bring the tying or go-ahead run to the plate on four separate occasions down the stretch. “Any lesser team might fold under that kind of pressure. These girls didn’t let it get to them, and they made the plays when they needed to make the plays.”
Even as McDonogh put runners on first and third with one out in the top of the seventh, trailing 8-7, AACS kept its cool. With one out, freshman shortstop Jordyn Hursh fielded a hard grounder by McDonogh captain Wendy Folfas, threw home to catcher Abby Minor for a tag out and the plate, and Minor came up gunning, zipping to ball to third baseman Miranda Shandy for another tag out and a championship-clinching, 6-2-5 double play.
Winning pitcher Haley Keppel struck out seven and subdued McDonogh just long enough to seal the victory despite an admirable charge by the Baltimore County softballers.
The McDonogh Eagles took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, but AACS responded in the bottom half of the inning, as Minor singled with two outs and was knocked in by Shandy to tie the game at 1-1.
A leadoff walk by Shelby Hall and an RBI triple by Kaelin Hursh in the bottom of the second gave AACS a 2-1 lead, and they extended to 3-1 when Hursh was singled home by her freshman sister, Jordyn.
McDonogh crept to within 3-2 on an RBI single by Caroline Folfas in the top of the third and had a worrisome rally going with runners on first and second, but a dazzling diving catch by AACS centerfielder Valerie Schultz, who made a hard charge coming in to snare a blistering line drive before it hit the grass, killed the McDonogh rally and preserved AACS’ lead.
Christina Dark hit her first of two RBI-doubles in the bottom half of the inning, plating Minor, who had singled, and giving AACS a 4-2 lead.
A leadoff triple in the top of the fourth was a promising start for the black-and-orange clad McDonogh Eagles, and though they went on to load the bases with no outs, Keppel got a ground-out, a strikeout and a runner interference on an infield pop-up to get out of the jam unscathed.
Christina Siwicki got it going for the blue-and-gold in the bottom of the fourth with a two-out single, and she came around to score on an eye-popping home run by Jordyn Hursh, who crushed an 0-1 pitch deep to center and raised the eyebrows of any onlooking track-and-field coaches with a turbo sprint around the bases and a 6-2 AACS lead.
In the fifth, for the second straight inning, McDonogh loaded the bases, but Keppel maintained poise and struck out the side to keep the opponents off the scoreboard.
“I was freaking out,” said Keppel with laughs after the game, speaking of the multiple jams she faced in the late innings. “We’ve come so close and we haven’t been able to finish it. This being my last year and this is our last game ever, it was a big motivation, but it also made me nervous because you’re like, ‘This is it.’ When it got so close and my pitching wasn’t as on point as it should be, just to see the girls come together and get this win was fantastic.”
A Shandy single and a double by Dark in the bottom half of the inning put AACS up 7-2, but McDonogh surged to life in the sixth, getting four runs on two hits and three walks before Keppel got the third out on a strikeout to preserve AACS’ lead at 7-6.
Keppel helped her own cause in the bottom of the sixth, doubling in Jordyn Hursh, who had doubled with two outs, for a valuable insurance run and an 8-6 AACS lead. Hursh scored on Keppel’s hit after a sensational collision at the plate in which she dislodged the ball from the McDonogh catcher’s grasp and reached out to tap home with her hand while lying face-down in the dirt.
The run turned out to be vital, as McDonogh plated a run on back-to-back singles in top of the seventh before the infield’s magical double play sealed the deal and set off a joyous, hard-earned celebration amongst the AACS players, coaches, families and fans.
Players spoke of their faith in God, positive thinking and love for the game as central to the team’s character and success.
“We love to cheer and keep loose,” said sophomore Logan Hall. “If we’re losing, people won’t even know, because we’re having fun.”
“Faith brought us here, and we just love to play the sport,” said Shandy. “Emotions are running crazy right now. The five seniors have been working together since freshman year. We have the best unity on our team. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to play with. It’s a small team, eleven, but we’re all best friends. We love each other like sisters. This was just the cherry on top of an amazing season that I would never trade for anything.”
Click here to see a full photo gallery AACS softball's championship win.
Jordyn Hursh 3-4, single, double, home run, 3 RBI, 2R; Haley Keppel WP, 7 K’s, 1-4, double, 1 RBI; Abby Minor 2-4, two singles, 2R; Miranda Shandy 2-4, two singles, 1 RBI, 1 R; Christina Dark 2-4, two doubles, 2 RBI; Shelby Hall BB, R; Kaelin Hursh 1-3, double, 1 RBI, 1 R; Christina Siwicki BB, R.This article will appear in the June 6 print issue of the Arundel Voice.