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May 14, 2005

Final-inning collapse eliminates Blazers

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
All season long, the Blair Blazers had waited for their chance to do damage in the Maryland state softball playoffs, and their opportunity came tonight. For six innings, the Blazers played stellar ball and looked on their way to a solid win.

The seventh was a different story.

The Richard Montgomery Rockets (13-4) got all three of their runs in the final inning and mounted a stunning rally to upend the Blazers (15-4) at home, 3-2, and abruptly and prematurely ended what had been a great Blair season.

In the top of the inning, trailing Blair 2-0, RM star Heather Riley hit a scorching two-out triple to the right-center field wall that scored two runs and tied the game. The next batter, Sarah Meleney, singled to drive in Riley, the winning run. RM, who will play Whitman on Monday, set the tone in the rally when Katie DiFato drew a leadoff walk.

Blazer manager Louis Hoelman lamented about the walk that started the inning that ended Blair's year. "I just wish we'd have gotten that leadoff batter in the seventh out," he lamented. "Walking her put real pressure on us."

Annie Denenberg was on the mound for Blair, and up until that point in the game, she had pitched out of pressure well. Just one inning earlier, with a one-run lead and Candace Thompson on third for the Rockets, she got Janine Lux to line back to her, and then threw to third to retire Thompson to end the inning unscathed.

In the top of the second, the Rockets loaded the bases with no outs, but Denenberg struck out a Rocket and was able to get out of that inning without any damage sustained.

Up through the first six innings, Hoelman was proud of his team and confident of the way they played. "I was on cloud nine," he said. "It felt so good, it was the best feeling I've ever had coaching."

That feeling made a total 180-degree turn in the next inning. Denenberg, starting in her first playoff appearance ever, began to slow down, throwing six balls in a row at one point in the inning. Hoelman said that Denenberg "stopped throwing hard."

"It was the biggest situation she had ever been in," he said. "And she got loose with her pitches."

Riley, the Rockets' star cleanup hitter, made Denenberg pay for being loose with her gapper to the wall that scored DiFato and Sara Capotosto. "Riley's great," Hoelman said. "Its no surprise to me that she hit that great gap shot when [Denenberg] lost speed on he fastball."

Blair only had one senior this year, Emily O'Brien, and the core of their team (and both starting pitchers) are sophomores. Hoelman said that their lack of big game experience up to this point matched up with RM's veterans created a problem for the Blazers.

"The age difference was big; they were more confident than we were and [Denenberg] was and they got hits off her and they hung in there because of their experience that we didn't have," he said. "RM's a tough team and they responded well."

Denenberg allowed 11 hits and three walks tonight. Six of those hits and two of the walks came in the final two innings. She didn't strike out any Rockets after the second inning, and had four up to that point.

This game "was the biggest situation she's ever been in," Hoelman reasserted, "and she slowed mentally."

Blair got their lead off of unearned runs. In the bottom of the second inning, Sarah Rumbaugh got caught in a rundown between third base and home plate. The RM catcher, Allison Stewart, threw the ball away into left field and Rumbaugh scored easily. Michelle Linford tacked on to their Blair lead in the sixth when she scored on a Thompson wild pitch.

O'Brien, the only player who will graduate for Blair, was still teary-eyed over a half-hour after the final out, as were many other Blazer players and coaches. But she stayed positive after her final game ended stunningly, saying, "I wish we could have won, but I have no complaints."

For the rest of the team, their window to win a state title hasn't closed. Instead, Hoelman said, it can act as a learning experience. "We've got to remember what this loss felt like and not do it again."

Blair already looked defeated heading into the bottom of the seventh. Claire Lieberman and Sara Pierce were retired on bunts, Rumbaugh singled, and Anna Szapiro popped up to second base to end the game. None of the Blazers hit a ball out of the infield in the inning.

Thompson was stellar on the mound for the Rockets, allowing two unearned runs in seven innings, while striking out nine Blazers. She allowed just five hits, and in the teams' last meeting in April, she struck out 11 Blair hitters. "She's great," Hoelman said.

As the Blazers walked off the field, many looked down and demoralized, not just because they lost, but because of the way they lost combined with the season that came to an abrupt end. This team was the third seed in the 4A West division, but the lottery seeding system somehow put them up against a battle tested RM squad that had just one more loss than Blair in the regular season.

"The system's not real good," Hoelman said.

For Blair, Rumbaugh had two hits, as did Michelle Linford. Denenberg contributed the other hit for the Blazers, a single. Meleney's RBI capped a 4-4 night, all singles. Riley's triple was her only time on base tonight, and Thompson also had a triple for the Rockets.

The loss was a tough way for the Blazers, who showed so much promise, to go out this season. A game that was looking so good for so long went awry in almost a blink. The state championship talk will have to be shelved for another year.

Winning one playoff game will be a start.

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  • Dumb Democrats= (View Email) on May 15, 2005 at 9:47 AM
    Ouch. That sounds bad. The ending of the article is quite touching.
  • jcode on May 15, 2005 at 12:17 PM
    "For six innings, the Blazers played stellar baseball..."

    The softball team played stellar baseball?

    That's why we check and recheck, good article though...
  • kid on May 15, 2005 at 12:27 PM

    Tons of mistakes, you have to read over your own stuff several times. You stated that the softball team played "stellar baseball" in the first paragraph. "stunning rally to stun the Blazers (15-4)," that's just repetitive. " home, 3-2, and abruptly and prematurely end what had been a great Blair season." That's just hard to read. You're better than that! :-)
  • Ely Portillo (View Email) on May 15, 2005 at 12:47 PM
    A comment in this place from "angry blazer" was removed because it made an anonymous, unsubstantiated, potentially libelous allegation against a writer. All such charges will be considered, but ordinarily, it is against our policy to post them. Thanks for reading SCO.
  • fan on May 15, 2005 at 2:28 PM
    you guys need to chill. He does his best and the quotes he gets are the same ones from the post because he got quotes from Hoelman the same time the post did. Relax, he writes good
  • blazer on May 15, 2005 at 3:07 PM
    I understand that you try your best, but I really think that this article is completely wrong -- Blair did not fall apart in that last inning. RM came back with some amazing clutch hits, but Blair fielded each to their best ability...not a single error was made. Yes, Denenberg walked the lead-off batter. But did you mention the fact that she was completely dominating the rest of the night? The article doesn't mention that her outstanding performance, despite RM's 11 hits, was one of the reasons that Blair was able to secure a lead during the first six innings. She played an amazing game.
    Not to mention Blair's fielding -- it was an almost perfect game. The team twice got out of bases-loaded situations, Sara Rumbaugh made an outstanding catch in center field, and the infield was solid all night. Claire Lieberman was a wall behind the plate.
    It was a tragic loss that hit the girls hard, but they played like a great ball team.
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on May 15, 2005 at 6:30 PM
    I have been ripped this entire year for being not enough of a homer. I loved covering this team and it was an absolute privilege to do so. But I'm also tired of being ripped for things, and being accused of stealing quotes. Judith Evans of the Post, Ira Weintraub of the DC Examiner and I all talked to Hoelman at the same time and can use notes. Ever heard of a press conference in pro sports? People use the same quotes who were there and took notes...not because they stole them.

    I'm sorry, blazer, but losing 3-2 off three runs in the last inning is falling apart. I said they had played "stellar" up until that point. I'm not going to make praise where there isn't. I think I've given this team all the credit they've deserved (a whole, whole lot) for their amazing season.

    It was so much fun to cover, and when they lost I was disappointed I wouldnt be able to see another softball game for 10 months. I'll be honest...I wasnt so excited to cover softball back in march. But I came to love this sport and covering it, and I think they're the most exciting team to watch at our school.

    There are a couple errors in here, absolutely. The baseball line was a dumb error to make and I didn't proofread well enough I suppose. The repetition was a bad error, and I didnt check over my lead the way I should have. I apologize for that.

    As for angry blazer, I wrote 1000 words at least for every softball story. I implore you to look the previous years of coverage and see if it was as extensive. I hate to puff myself up at all on things, but I take pride in the effort I put into these stories. I really dont think you'll find as in-depth a beat on this site as you will for softball this year.

    The softball team is lucky to have fans as devoted and strong as the ones who post here and show up every game and make the atmosphere so amazing every time they play. But please, lets not go crazy when I dont exalt them, but rather tell the story like it happened with honesty.

    The team was amazing, and I'll be the first one to say that. They had an amazing year.
  • scorekeeper on May 15, 2005 at 10:29 PM
    Eleven hits? No. I was keeping score as well. There were 6 hits and five fielder- choices. Apparently all five of those fielder choices were (incorectly) scored as hits.
  • uh on May 16, 2005 at 5:25 PM
    "I really dont think you'll find as in-depth a beat on this site as you will for softball this year. "

    hey now, volleyball should get some credit too
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on May 16, 2005 at 6:28 PM
    Let me refine my defense. I implore you to find another high school paper in the united states that gives this much coverage to softball as this one does. or any sport, really.
  • homer on May 16, 2005 at 9:19 PM
    It is shocking just how much better SCO is than every other online high school paper in the country. Go look at the other pacemaker finalists from this year. If you think any of them are even in the same league as chips you're way off.
  • haters on May 17, 2005 at 5:03 PM
    stop hatin on my man mike right here, he went to all da softball games and despite a few expected "softball lingo" errors he has done great. I always read the softball articles because of mikes excellent reporting. last year i gurantee you i read one and only one softball article

    so like the guy at the 06 assembley said today "no hatin allowed"
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