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Underdog Lions fight, but fall to Rising Sun in 2A state softball semifinals

GLEN BURNIE — After Tuesday’s postgame huddle, Walkersville softball player Izzy Dietrich used her blue jersey to wipe away some tears.

The Lions did pretty much everything together this year, and Dietrich’s display of emotion was no exception.

“We all were,” Walkersville’s Ella Montgomery said of drying their eyes on their jerseys.

That’s what happens when a high-achieving team with realistic hopes of reaching the state final, even on a day when it was the decided underdog, comes up short.

Despite home runs from Izzy Dietrich and Ella Montgomery that helped show the Lions were more than capable of hanging with undefeated and defending state champ Rising Sun, Walkersville lost 8-5 in the Class 2A state semifinals.

This was Walkersville’s first trip to the state semis since 2022, and there were many holdovers from that team.

“We were here before and we were the underdogs again,” Montgomery, a senior, said “But I like that better. I don’t like coming in feeling like we’re expected to win. I like feeling like if we win, everyone’s going to be shocked and surprised.”

Lions coach Randy Hinkelman liked his team’s chances, even though the Tigers looked superior on paper and featured four players at the top of their lineup, starting with Virginia Tech-bound leadoff hitter Jordan Lynch, that all seemed capable of knocking the ball all over the place.

And when Dietrich crushed a game-tying three-run homer over the left field fence in the third inning and bounced back from a rough first inning to turn in a solid start in the pitchers circle, the hope of Hinkelman and his players seemed justified.

“The way they fought,” Hinkelman said. “Ella in the leadoff spot has been absolutely phenomenal for us all year long, and she continued to do that here.”

Right until the end, in fact.

With the Lions trailing 8-3 in the seventh, Montgomery blasted a two-out, two-run over over right-center field fence.

“I was thinking, ‘Don’t strike out,’” she said. “My last hit was a home run, and that’s all anyone could wish for. I was just trying to keep my team alive.”

Madison Lepeonka followed with a single, but Hailey Putnam’s drive to center was caught to end Walkersville’s season.

Dietrich went six-plus innings. She bounced back after giving up three runs in the bottom of the first, including a leadoff homer by Lynch.

“She’s D1 for a reason,” Dietrich said. “She just had my number. It’s hard to get a player like her out.”

Dietrich held the Tigers scoreless for the next three innings. Meanwhile, she got the Lions back in the game with a three-run homer in the third.

“I wanted to get my seniors one more game. And I had nothing to lose going into the box,” Dietrich said. “I mean, I’m the ninth batter. No one expects me to hit the ball. So I just swung for the fences.”

Dietrich has a penchant for getting clutch hits, including a grand slam in Walkersville’s win over Boonsboro in the CMC championship. This time, though, she was one of the few people in the complex who didn’t think her long blast would clear the fence.

“No doubt that ball was gone. That ball’s still moving,” Hinkelman said.

But Lynch wasn’t through. With the game tied at 3 in the bottom of the fifth, she led off with a double and scored on Josalyn McMillan’s ground-rule double. The Tigers added two more runs that inning, putting them on a path to returning to the state final for the third straight year.

Hinkelman had no complaints, though.

“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” he said. “What Izzy’s done in the circle all year for us, and she’s had some big hits.”

While players like Dietrich (who also doubled) and Caitlin Hinkelman (who had two hits) will return, the Lions lose mainstays like Lepeonka, Montgomery, Putnam and Caroline Hinkelman. At least they went out battling.

“Being one of the older girls helped, and building a connection with the seniors, I really loved it,” Dietrich said. “Win or lose, I really enjoyed our season.”