The first time Maryland District 7 won the Big League Softball World Series in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1997, it was a surprise. When they repeated in 1998, it was expected. But the 7-0 win over host Michigan District 2 that completed the three-peat Saturday was downright impressive--and historic.
Three other teams have repeated as champions--Tampa, Fla., (in 1982-83); Williamsport, Pa., (1984-85); and Portland, Maine, (1988-89)--but the Southern Maryland-based squad is the only one in the 20-year history of the Big League World Series that has earned the title three consecutive years. Each final victory has come against the Kalamazoo team.
"We didn't think too much about it," said Northern senior Devin Karcesky, one of the team's pitchers. "Everything just felt the same as last year. It was basically the same team, the same talent. Definitely the same confidence level."
The main reason for the team's consistency has been 1999 tournament MVP Clarisa Crowell. The former All-Met Player of the Year from McDonough High has thrown a complete-game shutout in each of the team's three championship appearances, totaling 32 strikeouts in 20 innings pitched. On Saturday, she whiffed 14 batters over seven innings and walked none.
"There is nobody else I would rather have on the mound," Maryland Manager Mike Kriner told ESPN2, which broadcast the game live from Vanderberg Park. "She is a big-game pitcher. Her level of play just rises in a big ballgame. You give her the ball and you can see it on her face."
Crowell had said she felt considerably more pressure this summer--to repeat as Big League champions--than she did last season as a freshman at Virginia Tech. She quickly alleviated that pressure Saturday.
The powerful right-hander struck out the side in the top of the first, relying heavily on her trademark rise-ball, then helped her own effort offensively with a single to center field in the bottom half of the inning. Teammate Renee Oursler (Northern High, now entering her first season with South Florida) reached base on an error, and she and Crowell scored when Michigan's shortstop mishandled a grounder by former All-Met catcher Beth Radford (Northern; University of Maryland sophomore).
"To me, when Clarisa's pitching, I think one run is plenty to spot her," Karcesky said. "I think we all feel that way. Then, once we got rolling and the runs started piling up, you know it's over. The other team wasn't even touching her."
Southern Maryland cushioned its lead with two more runs in the third: one on a solo home run by leadoff hitter Jillian Callaway and one on a Michigan error that scored Crowell, who reached base on another single to center field. Crowell batted .667 over the course of the six-day, six-game tournament.
In the fifth inning, Callaway scored again off a single by Oursler, and Radford slammed a two-run shot more than 220 feet that cleared the left-field fence to round out the scoring.
"This was sweet," said Kriner, whose team lost to Michigan, 5-4, during the tournament's round-robin play and had to come from behind to defeat Indianapolis on Friday to earn a trip back to the final. "I can smile now. The first [championship] was special, and last year we expected to win. This year, it was a struggle. When we sit back and think about it, this might be the sweetest one."
Special Correspondent Terrance Collins contributed to this report from Kalamazoo.
Michigan District 2000 000 0--0 3 3Maryland District 7202 030 x--7 5 3
Voss, Green (6) and Mejeur, Ackerson (6); Crowell and Radford. HR--Callaway (3rd), Radford (5th).
CAPTION: Renee Oursler, in red jersey, scored twice and had an RBI in the title game.