For Katie Faulkner, watching her friends from the Southern Maryland District 7 team win a record fifth Big League Softball World Series title last summer on ESPN was exciting. But seeing her pal Abbey Welch interviewed after pitching the clinching game just blew Faulkner's mind.
"I was just freaking out when that happened," Faulkner said. "That's when I knew I wanted to be a part of that so badly."
Faulkner, who graduated from Northern in June, is going to get that chance. She and her District 7 teammates won the Big League East Region title for the seventh time in eight years Wednesday night when they swept a pair of games from Delaware District 3 -- 3-2, in 11 innings, and 3-0, on a perfect game by Welch.
The District 7 team left yesterday for the World Series in Kalamazoo, Mich., which begins tomorrow. The championship game is Saturday and will be televised on tape delay on ESPN2 at 11 a.m. Aug. 27.
The trip may be routine for District 7 Coach Tommy Morrison, whose team became the first to win five titles last year. But what keeps the team energized annually is the new blood, like Faulkner, one of seven District 7 players making their first trip to Kalamazoo.
"Southern Maryland has done it so many times, it's such an honor being on this team," Faulkner said. "There's been so many well-known names on this team in the past. Just to be on that list, it's amazing. It's so cool that you know those people, you've played with them."
Those feelings keep drawing players back to the team. Welch, a McDonough graduate, just completed her freshman year at Longwood University in Virginia. This is the last year she is eligible to play in Big League.
"When I was in school, I was looking forward to coming back here and playing one more year," said Welch, who will play at Maryland next year. "It's so special. These are the girls I've played with my whole life."
That comfort allows this team to stay calm, even in the rare instance it falls behind, as it did in the first game of Wednesday's best-of-three championship round against Delaware.
After sweeping through the five-game round-robin play earlier in the week, District 7, with its ace Welch pitching, fell behind 2-0 to Delaware in the second inning. Then District 7 went to work.
Huntingtown senior Kelli Seger had an RBI single in the third inning, and Caryn Moreland (Thomas Stone), who just completed her freshman year at Methodist College in North Carolina, hit a two-out bloop single in the fourth inning to score La Plata senior Carrie Higdon to tie the game.
Great Mills graduate Lacey Trossbach (a sophomore at St. Cloud State in Minnesota) pitched eight shutout innings of relief before Northern senior -- and Big League rookie -- Stephanie Randolph smashed a deep fly over right fielder Lindsey Moore's head to score Trossbach with the winning run.
"I'd been struggling all game long," Randolph said. "I've got to show them that I belong here."
In the second game, Welch struck out 14 and threw three balls to only two of the 18 batters. District 7 scored all of its runs in the fifth inning. Two runs scored on a bunt by Northern graduate Heather Holley, with the help of a Delaware throwing error. Two batters later, Holley scored on a bloop single by Thomas Stone junior Maggie Donaldson.