This time last year, Jen Peel was sitting at home, nursing an injured shoulder and watching her Maryland District 9 teammates on television celebrating a second consecutive Big League Softball World Series title.
On Thursday, Peel made sure they got a shot at a third straight title, scoring two runs to lead the Southern Maryland-based team past the Delaware state champions, 2-1, in the Big League Eastern Regional final at Oak Ridge Park in Hughesville.
Southern Maryland will begin play tomorrow in the Big League World Series in Kalamazoo, Mich. The championship game on Aug. 21 will be televised on ESPN.
Peel twice got on base when Delaware third baseman Angela Griffith was unable to field Peel's "swinging bunts." The Calvert rising senior tied the score at one in the bottom of the fifth inning on Thomas Stone graduate Andrea Brady's RBI sacrifice. Peel scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Delaware second baseman Stephanie Lankford mishandled Lisa Estevez's ground ball, allowing Peel to score from second base.
After the game, Peel played down her performance.
"Oh yeah, real nice swinging bunts," Peel said of the two slow rollers that landed her on first base. That notwithstanding, she is excited about her first World Series.
"It's awesome. I can't wait," Peel said. "Everybody has been telling me about how much fun it is. I watched it on TV last year and wished I was on the trip."
Clarisa Crowell proved why she has been one of the central figures in Southern Maryland's success, yielding no earned runs to the tough Delaware team in two games last week. The McDonough graduate and two-time All-Met Player of the Year shut down Delaware in a tournament semifinal on Tuesday, striking out 19 in a 1-0, 10-inning victory. Crowell, a rising sophomore at Virginia Tech, was just as dominant in Thursday's final, yielding only three hits and striking out 15 batters.
"She's tough, there's no doubt about it," Delaware Coach Mike Wyatt said of Crowell. "She's got a riser that's out of this world. . . . We knew coming in what we were up against, but we came here to win it. They're just a very tough team."
Crowell's finest moment came in the top of the fourth inning Thursday after Delaware's Cassie Johnson lined a leadoff triple into the left field corner. With Maryland trailing 1-0, Crowell knew a sizable Delaware lead likely would be too much to overcome. It also likely would have resulted in Crowell being replaced to save her arm in case a second game was needed--Delaware needed to defeat Maryland twice to win the double-elimination tournament.
But Crowell handled the situation, stranding Johnson at third by striking out the side--throwing only six pitches to the final two batters. Crowell picked right up in the fifth, striking out the first two batters before Jackie Palmer popped out to Southern Maryland shortstop Renee Oursler.
"That concerned me a little bit," Crowell said of Johnson's triple. "But then I told myself, 'You need to step up. You need this out. You need to come up big.' "
Southern Maryland Coach Mike Kriner said he expected nothing less from Crowell.
"She's a big-game pitcher," Kriner said. "She didn't want to hand the ball down. I can't think of anyone else I would want to hand the ball to. . . . Sometimes she gets fired up and you see the ball moving a little faster across the plate. That's what you see."
Delaware took advantage of uncharacteristic sloppy play by Maryland to grab a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Delaware's Leah Conley led off the inning with a single and stole second base. Staci Wyatt struck out on a pitch in the dirt that got away from catcher Beth Radford. Radford, a rising sophomore at the University of Maryland, threw the ball into right field trying to get Wyatt out at first base, allowing Conley to score from second. Crowell ended the inning by striking out two batters.
Delaware 010 000 0--1
Maryland 000 010 1--2
Riggleman and Parseghian. Crowell and Radford.
A Chance to Three-Peat
What: The 1999 Big League Softball World Series.
Where: Kalamazoo, Mich.
When: Monday through Saturday.
Who: The winners of six regions--East (Southern Maryland), South, West, Central, Canada, Host (Michigan District 2).
Southern Maryland schedule: Monday: vs. Canada; Tuesday: vs. West; Wednesday: vs. Host; Thursday: vs. South; Friday: vs. Central.
Pitching rules: Pitchers may throw up to 10 innings in one day but must have a day's rest between games pitched. Pitchers can play other positions on their off day from pitching.
Lineup: The Southern Maryland lineup is strongest with Clarisa Crowell pitching. She is backed in the field by: C Beth Radford, 1B Andrea Brady, 2B Jen Peel, 3B Jill Calloway, SS Renee Oursler, LF Beth White, CF Lisa Boone, RF Patty Brown. Coach Mike Kriner said he plans to use all his reserves throughout the tournament.
Format: The tournament is set up in a round-robin format, with all the teams playing each other at least once. The teams with the two best records meet in the championship.
History: Southern Maryland has won the title the past two seasons, losing only one game each year. Last year, Southern Maryland defeated host Michigan for the title.