Regional Champion Cougars Ride 17-Game Win Steak To State Finals
By Peter Crispino
Photos by Colin A.J. Murphy
When the Chesapeake High School softball team lost five of their first eight games of the season, few could have imagined that the team would be competing for a state championship less than two months later. But thanks to a rapid turnaround and a remarkable 17-game winning streak, the Cougars took the regional title and advanced to the state final before losing in a nail-biting 1-0 game to Sherwood High of Montgomery County on May 24 at the University of Maryland.
After the team went winless against Mount De Sales and Howard High at the Spalding Classic on April 7 to earn their fourth and fifth losses of the year, Head Coach Don Ellenberger sat his team down and let them have it. I told them that's not the way we play. I challenged them. Told them, When we come back to practice on Monday, you tell me what kind of team you want to be, said Ellenberger.
Captains Kim Federowicz and Erin Van Dyke, the teams only two seniors, spoke to their teammates, and by Monday, the girls were ready to shake off the losses and play the brand of softball that has made Chesapeake a perennial regional powerhouse. From that point on, the Cougars stormed through the county like a freight train and would not lose another game until the state final, 55 days later.
With the loss of last seasons standout pitcher Megan Hyson, who was recently named second team All-Region as a freshman at Georgetown, as well as star catcher Gabby Couture, the early shortcomings were not totally surprising. The Cougars eventual success stemmed from the rapid improvement of last years freshman and sophomore players, who not only replaced, but occasionally outshined last seasons stars. No player on the team, or in the county for that matter, improved as much as Olivia Ravadge, who was named Capital Gazette Communications Softball Player of the Year. As a sophomore last year, Ravadge showed plenty of promise but nevertheless batted last in the order. This season, Ravadge moved to the cleanup spot and posted unprecedented offensive numbers. After Ellenberger checked other teams scorebooks after the season, he counted 54 RBIs for Ravadge, three more than the Maryland record. The numbers have been submitted for review, but pending state certification, it is a feat which floored even her veteran coach.
I shouldn't say Olivia ever surprises me, but the numbers she put up this year especially from an RBI perspective did surprise me because it's never been done in the state before, Ellenberger noted. It's one of those things where she just took over and ran with it all season. I don't know if anyone's ever going to be able to do that again or if she's going to be able to do that again, but it sure would be neat to go at it again senior year with an even better record. But I know I certainly wouldn't pitch to her.
Ravadge wasnt the only player to shatter her coachs expectations. Federowicz and junior first baseman Jacqueline Richards posted huge numbers and joined Ravadge on the first team of the Coaches All-County selections. Sophomores Deja White and Danielle Myers and junior Crystal White stepped into new roles on the team and were each named second-team All-County, while sophomore shortstop Emily Kirby was an honorable mention selection.
Going into the season, neither White nor freshman Emily Muller had ever thrown a single pitch for varsity; however, the two rookie pitchers stepped up and blew away hitters as the season progressed. Since the 17-game winning streak began, the Cougars duo notched six shutouts and surrendered three runs or less 13 times. In their five state-playoff games, they surrendered just 2.4 runs-per-game to Marylands top teams.
White, in particular, developed into a star as the year progressed, with her amazing season reaching its crescendo in the state final. Sherwood entered the game undefeated and averaging an astonishing 10.2 runs per game. They had not scored fewer than five runs all season, but they had not faced a pitcher as hot as White all season either. The junior starter completely dominated the vaunted Sherwood offense, taking a no-hitter into the late innings and finishing with a complete game three-hitter.
Crystal threwwhat is todaythe game of her life, Ellenberger said. I couldn't have even dreamed that up in a script To see us lose it because we weren't able to hit was very frustrating because she pitched well enough to win any other championship game that I've ever been associated with. It just didn't happen that day.
For a team full of underclassmen who started the season with five losses out of the gate, they had plenty to be proud of. They displayed the discipline, resolve and heart to astoundingly storm back from the brink of a lost season to the brink of a state championship.
After the final, I told them I was as proud as I could ever be, recalled Ellenberger. They did everything I asked of them and it just wasn't meant to be that day. I told them they had nothing to be ashamed of and to keep their heads up high.
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