Any concerns Coach Mike Kriner had about his Southern Maryland District 7 Big League softball team's lack of practice were erased early Sunday evening. The two-time World Series defending champions jumped out to a 5-0 first-inning lead and coasted to an 11-0, five-inning victory over Connecticut in the first round of the Big League Eastern Regional Tournament at Oak Ridge Field in Hughesville.
Southern Maryland practiced just once as a full team--Saturday evening--before the tournament started because six players were participating in a club tournament in Tennessee last week.
The weekend's schedule was hectic for those players coming home--including former All-Met player of the year Clarisa Crowell. After returning from Tennessee on Saturday afternoon, they zipped to a two-hour practice. They then had to wait through a rain delay that postponed the start of Sunday's game from 5 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.
"It's been pretty hectic, but I've been doing it all summer, so I'm used to it being all hectic like that," said Crowell, who pitched the first two innings of the game. "I have played a lot of games this summer, but when you're out on the field, you don't think of being tired or anything like that."
Any fatigue or unfamiliarity with one another had little effect on Southern Maryland, which has not lost a regional qualifying game in two years.
Lisa Boone was hit by a pitch with one out in the bottom of the first inning. Crowell advanced Boone to third with a single and then stole second. Former Northern High School and current University of Maryland catcher Beth Radford scored them both with a double off the fence. Patty Brown, Beth White and Andrea Brady each added an RBI, as the team batted around before the inning was over.
"They can play," said Kriner, who added that the missed practice time together might only affect the team's timing. "We just had to go over the little things, like cutoffs and how to run bunt routines--things you just don't want to make mistakes [on and cause you to] lose a one-run ballgame against a good team."
Five pitchers combined for the shutout Sunday--which was called after five innings because of the 10-run mercy rule. After Crowell pitched the first two innings, January Balenger, Devin Karcesky and Liz Estevez came in to pitch an inning each.
Southern Maryland faced Delaware Tuesday evening. The winner of that game will play in the regional final today at 6 p.m. against the winner of the losers' bracket final. The champion will advance to the World Series beginning next week in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Kriner and the players expect to be there.
"This is a confident group," Kriner said. "They're used to winning. We have a lot of kids from Northern, and Northern is used to winning. McDonough is used to winning, also. It kind of breeds the winning attitude."