Clarisa Crowell's dominant pitching was no secret entering the Big League softball World Series. Teammate January Balenger's pitching talent, however, was a little less known.
Both pitchers played key roles in helping the Maryland District 7 team advance to the finals of the tournament. Maryland played host to Michigan District 2 (Kalamazoo) on Saturday in the championship. A victory would give the Southern Maryland-based squad a record third straight title. (Results of the title game were not available at press time).
After leading Southern Maryland through the Eastern Regional tournament with two victories, Crowell--a two-time All-Met Player of the Year--has continued her dominance with two shutouts in the World Series. It was Balenger's relief pitching, however, in a 7-4 victory over the Indiana District 7 team on Friday that assured Southern Maryland a title bid.
A team not used to losing much the past two years, Southern Maryland was motivated to avenge a 5-4 loss Wednesday to Kalamazoo.
"They were angry, disappointed and champing at the bit to play the game," Southern Maryland Coach Mike Kriner said of Saturday's championship.
But on Friday afternoon, Southern Maryland fell behind, 4-0, in the first inning on four unearned runs, failing to cleanly field several Indiana bunts. In the first inning, starting pitcher Devin Karcesky was relieved by Balenger (Westlake), who had yielded just two runs over the previous 13 innings.
Southern Maryland has proved throughout the tournament that it's difficult to quiet their bats for an entire game and that trend continued Friday. Trailing 4-2 entering the sixth inning, Southern Maryland rallied for five runs.
Crowell led off the inning with a triple and scored on Kristie Pickeral's single. Adrianne Draper followed with a pinch-hit single, advancing Pickeral to third. Two consecutive outfield errors yielded four more runs and put Southern Maryland ahead for good.
"I'm not surprised," Kriner said of Balenger's six shutout innings. "She threw like that all year for Westlake. She's thrown like that for the Bayside Blues [club team this summer] and now she's thrown like that the whole time down here."