La Plata 11, Northern 1

To hear La Plata junior Carrie Higdon describe it, hitting is very simple -- swing only at strikes and the runs will come.

The Warriors were on their fourth trip through their batting order when they led Northern, 11-1, in their Maryland 3A South Region quarterfinal against Northern before it was stopped after five innings by the mercy rule. La Plata had swung and missed at exactly five pitches all game.

La Plata (17-4) sent 11 batters to the plate in the first inning and scored five times. After another run in the second, 10 more Warriors batted in a five-run third that sealed the victory.

Not only was this a credit to La Plata's bats, which had nine hits -- mostly solid shots to the outfield -- but also the Warriors' eyes; they drew nine walks, and two others reached as hit batsmen.

"We wanted to have better pitch selection and swing at more strikes," said Higdon, who opened the scoring with a two-run double in the first inning and also had an RBI single in the third, while holding Northern (12-8) to just three singles. "It's really about watching the ball from [the pitcher's] hand, especially with breaking balls, and watching the spin on the ball."

Now, they hope to repeat this effort against the team that has so consumed them all season. La Plata will visit No. 1 Calvert on Wednesday in the regional semifinals. The Cavaliers knocked off La Plata in last year's regional final and have beaten the Warriors twice this season by a combined score of 9-0.

"This is exactly what we want going into that game," Higdon said.

The Warriors had not played in a week, during which time they practiced situational hitting, things La Plata Coach Tony Jones said they could not do during the regular season, when they play virtually every other day.

"As hard as we worked today," Jones said, "it could blow up in our faces Wednesday."

This was not the way Coach Mike Johnson wanted to spend his final game in the Northern dugout. Johnson, the 1995 All-Met Coach of the Year, who led the Patriots to four state championships in his 14 seasons, will start the softball program at Huntingtown, Calvert County's fourth public high school set to open in the fall.

"I wanted them to go out as a team holding their heads high," Johnson said. "I could have handled a 4-3 loss or a 2-0 loss in eight innings, but I know that I'm leaving this program very strong."

La Plata's Tracey Webster runs for home, as Northern's Stephanie Randolph waits.