Mel Coombs and the rest of the St. Mary’s Ryken softball team found themselves in a familiar position: trailing Bishop O’Connell in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title game.
O’Connell and Ryken were facing off in their seventh straight conference final, but O’Connell had won three in a row entering Monday’s game at Holy Cross in Kensington. While Ryken had claimed titles in 2014 and 2015, no player on this year’s team had won a WCAC championship.
With two outs in the top of the sixth inning, Coombs stepped into the batter’s box determined to at least give her team a chance. The junior delivered, sending a game-tying two-run homer flying over the fence in right-center field.
“And once we tied it up, we knew we had to finish it,” Coombs said.
To do that, Ryken again turned to Coombs. In the eighth, the first extra inning, Coombs launched a three-run homer just inside the right field foul pole to put her team ahead 9-6.
That would stand as the final score after sophomore pitcher Molly Thompson tossed a scoreless bottom of the inning to seal the win.
“We owed them one,” Coombs said. “We definitely did. They’re our biggest rivals, so it means so much that we got this win.”
Ryken (17-2-1) had given O’Connell (17-5-1) its first loss of the season and its lone WCAC loss before the championship game back on March 18. Ryken trailed early in that game but came back to win, 18-14, in 10 innings — a victory that second-year coach Steph Dameron called the “turning point of the season.”
A rematch April 8 ended in a 2-2 tie in another drama-filled affair. O’Connell had taken a 3-2 lead in the top of the sixth but, because the inning could not be completed because of lightning, the game reverted to the score at the end of the last full inning.
Those results set the stage for Monday’s final, and Ryken made it clear from the beginning that it wouldn’t be intimidated by the three-time defending champion. Second-seeded Ryken scored two runs in the first to jump to an early lead against its top-seeded opponent.
O’Connell responded with five runs in the second, a rally keyed by doubles from junior Kiaris Alvarado Rojas and sophomore Madison Gayle. Still, Ryken’s players never doubted that they could mount a comeback.
“When St. Mary’s Ryken and Bishop O’Connell play each other, you know it’s going to be a great game, and it’s going to encourage all the players to give their best,” Dameron said. “And that’s what we saw here today.”