Linganore's transformation into softball contenders ends with extra-inning loss to Sherwood in 3A state final

COLLEGE PARK — They made the routine and not-so-routine plays, delivered textbook bunts at crucial times, got production from throughout the lineup and enjoyed another stellar complete game from Gracie Wilson, their go-to, postseason starter.

Simply put, Linganore’s softball team did all the things that earned it a spot in Friday’s state championship game, which seemed like an unrealistic destination when the Lancers were enduring some early season struggles.

“We were not at this place at the beginning of the season,” Wilson said. “And our girls have worked really hard to get where they’re at.”

While that hard work continued to yield results again on Friday, the Lancers didn’t end up with the ultimate result they desired.

In a game that was being accurately dubbed evenly matched before the first pitch was thrown, Sherwood sophomore pitcher Reagan Corb hit a walkoff two-run single over the right fielder’s head in the bottom of the eighth to lift the Warriors to a 6-5 win over the Lancers in the Class 3A state final at the University of Maryland.

As Sherwood (19-1) players celebrated right after Corb’s hit, Wilson was greeted by first baseman Leo Cline as she left the field. Those two, along with right fielder Alexis Hardy, were holdovers from the Linganore team that won the program’s first state title in dramatic fashion in 2022. With those veterans and state final newbies like sophomore catcher Lilly Trunnell, who threw out two runners and had three RBIs, the Lancers were far from fazed when they trailed 2-1 throughout most of the first four innings.

“Our win in 2022, we never gave up, and it showed [tonight],” Wilson said. “We were down most of that game, so I just knew in my head it wasn’t over until it was over.”

Sure enough, Wilson and Trunnell had back-to-back RBI doubles (Trunnell’s knocked in two runs) in the fifth to give the Lancers a 4-2 lead.

With the way Wilson’s screwballs and change-ups were keeping Sherwood’s dangerous lineup from exploding, that lead looked like it might just hold up, especially when Hardy charged in, dove forward and made an inning-ending catch in the bottom of the fifth.

That highlight came in a game that saw the Lancers pull off several unusual, rally-killing double plays. In the first, Trunnell threw out a runner trying to steal third after squeezing the third strike. In the third, Hardy threw out a runner tagging up from third after she caught a pop up. And in the sixth, second baseman Rachel Battaglia got the putout at first on a sac bunt and then threw out a runner at home for the final out.

Such plays were hardly commonplace for the Lancers, who finish with an 18-6 record, in March.

“We looked at the team at the beginning of the year on paper. We go back to the South Carroll game, when we made so many errors. How did we ever think we’d be here?” Lancers coach Andrea Poffinberger said. “So I’m proud of them. They shouldn’t hang their heads.”

They didn’t, for the most part. After the game, they headed to center field and posed in front of the still-lit scoreboard.

“Just to see our growth from the beginning of the season to now, how we’ve jelled as a team, is incredible,” Hardy said. “And I think we were all gunning to finish on a high note. But the fact that we were able to get here, we beat some really good teams to get here, I’m really proud of us as a team.”

On offense, the Lancers had several hard hits on Friday, such as the liner Wilson smoked right to the second baseman in the third, that failed to fall in.

“It just came down to a couple line drives didn’t go our way, a lot of hits went their way,” Poffinberger said. “We executed in ITB, and they came back and got one extra.”

After Sherwood’s game-tying, two-run rally in the sixth, the game went to extra innings.

Linganore’s Sydney Mott led off the eighth with a sac bunt, and Kylie Thompson followed with a sac bunt that knocked in ITB runner Hardy.

“It was tight all the way,” Cline said. “We did what we could. We left it all the field.”

University of Maryland-bound Wilson left it out on the very field where she’ll be playing next season. She struck out five and scattered nine hits after more or less being converted from a center fielder, where she played most of the regular season, to an everyday starter in the playoffs.

With players like Trunnell and fellow sophomore Bradyn MacKay, among others, returning, Poffinberger expects next year’s Lancers to remain a force. But they will miss longtime contributors like Wilson, Cline and Hardy.

“It was the best season I could’ve ever imagined, even though we didn’t win states, which is what we wanted to do,” Cline said. “But it was with the best teammates I could ever ask for.”