“We have a target on our back,” said Mike Horton, the head coach of the defending 4A Maryland State Champion Northwest Jaguars. “The biggest difference between this year and last year is that last year, we were underdogs and this year we are favorites.”
This week, the Lady Jags overcame two big hurdles to make repeating as State Champs a reality, but it wasn’t easy. The Jags had to defeat their bitter rivals Quince Orchard and cross-town rivals Clarksburg on two successive days.
The Jags who ended their regular season with a record of 16-2, began the post-season with the 9-10 Lady Cougars of QO on Monday, but the rains forced the game to be called after one inning with the score 1-1. The two teams pick things up in the second inning on Tuesday with sophomore pitcher Amber Yuile striking out two and forcing a groundout, before the Jags’ bats exploded for seven runs, including a triple by sophomore Megan Ridenour in the bottom of the inning.
Yuile would finish the game with eight strike outs; a hit a home run, and the game-ending RBI in the bottom of the fifth inning to score sophomore outfield Shawnee Ronyak to give the Jags a ten run lead at the end of five innings.
Because of Monday’s rain, the Jags would be back in on the field at Northwest the next day to face a formidable Clarksburg team which went 11-4 in the regular season and were coming off two impressive postseason victories.
The Lady Coyotes dispatched Gaithersburg 12-0 in the opening round of the playoffs and beat a 12-5 Wootton team by one run, 1-0 in the second round of the playoffs. The Clarksburg/Wootton game was another game which was forced to be played over two days, but unlike Northwest/QO, the Cougars only needed to play one inning on Tuesday.
The Lady Coyotes seemed like the more rested team when they met the Jags on Wednesday afternoon in Germantown. Clarksburg jumped out to a one-run lead when Phylicia McInnis worked a 10-pitch walk from Yuilie and later scored on an RBI hit by senior Sydney Bencal.
The Jags could not answer back. “We kept it close, as close as we could have kept it as we made some defensive mistakes,” said Horton after the game. “The girls kept talking to each other and picking each other up. They focused on what they had to do, which was work one hit at a time.”
In the fourth inning, the Coyotes would add another run when freshman Abby Brenowitz reached base on an error and eventually stole home to put Clarksburg up 2-0. The Coyotes would get two more runs in the top of the fifth inning as K. Bencal and McInnis to take a 4-0 lead on the defending state champs.
The Jags were able to chip away at the lead in the bottom of the fifth as Ridenour and Ronyak scored after reaching base thanks to Coyote misplays to make the score 4-2.
In the sixth inning, the Lady Coyotes went three-up and three-down on just six pitches from Yuile.
As he Jags came off the field and the bottom of the six innings, freshman Molly Miller spoke up in the team meeting the Jags hold between every inning. She said, “We scored seven runs in an inning yesterday against Quince Orchard. Let’s do it again!” They did just that. The Jags exploded for seven runs in the six to take a 9-4 lead.
“For a freshman to think that,” said Horton, “and to bring it up to the team is great. I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was thinking about this game. I told her it was a good call.”
The rally was started by a lead-off double by sophomore catcher Jalyn Durand, and the hitting for Lady Jags didn’t stop until Durand would hit her second double of the inning.
“Jaylen hit the stuffing out of the ball,” said Horton. “We hit the ball that inning, and when you put pressure on teams to make plays in big spots, you make your own breaks. We had mistakes early on. We are a very resilient team. We’ve been down in games this year.”
Horton knew that this season would his champs would be tested. “We have a target on our back. It is a lot easier playing as an underdog than from the top. We are still good. I think we are still State worthy. I knew this year was going to be tough so I wanted to schedule tough teams. Our schedule this year was much harder than it was last year. I scheduled Urbana and Damascus. Overall, I think we are in contention again.”
“The first thing I told the girls back in weight training in October was, we have to put last year behind us because everybody is coming for us,” said Horton, “no matter if we play the worst team or the best team, everybody is giving their best to us because they want to knock us off.”
The Jags will host 12-6 Bethesda Chevy-Chase at 2:00 pm on Saturday in the 4A West Regional Championship Game. After a first-round bye, B-CC is coming off a 10-0 win over Einstein and in the 12-11 victory over Whitman.
Top: Freshman pitcher Amber Yuile is hoping to lead the Lady Jags to a second straight regional title with a win over B-CC on Saturday.
Next: Senior Chloe Hickman readies herself at second base.
Next: Head Coach Mike Horton and the Lady Jags gather for a quick team meeting between innings.
Next: Sophomore catcher Jalyn Durand knocked two doubles in the Jags rally in the bottom of the sixth to seal the victory over Clarksburg on Wednesday.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.