By Kevin Phillips
COLLEGE PARK–Rising Sun High School found itself in a familiar position in the MPSSAA 2A Softball Championship Game: heading into extra innings tied with Calvert High School. Unlike last season where the Tigers fell to the Cavaliers in eight innings, this year’s edition ended happily for Rising Sun as it won the state championship for the first time in 20 years with a 1-0 eight inning victory when Josalyn McMillan plated Catherine Meadows with a sacrifice.
“We have been working at this for a really long time. Last year, we went through a loss in the championship. We ended up in second,” the Tigers’ Cadence Williams said. “We took that and ran with it. We knew what to expect coming into it, and we went after it.”
Before Rising Sun had a chance to win the game in the eighth inning, it had to get through the top half of the inning without allowing a run with the disadvantage of a free runner on second due to the international tiebreaker rule, and Williams did that just for the Tigers as she retired Calvert in order.
With the top of the order coming up to the plate and the speedy Meadows on second as the free runner, Rising Sun was confident in its chances to secure the state championship.
“There was so much adrenaline. I was so excited to be there. I knew with Catherine (Meadows) being on second and with Jordan (Lynch) batting, there was no better position to be in,” the Tigers’ Faith McCullough said.
Lynch led things off in the bottom of the eighth with a single to left that put Meadows on third, setting the stage for McMillan.
After Lynch moved to second on defensive indifference to put runners of second and third with no outs, McMillan knew what she had to do to get Meadows home.
“I knew I had a lot of speed on third, so I just wanted to make solid contact with the ball and put the ball on the ground on the right side,” McMillan said during the game’s dramatic final moments. “I just wanted to see the ball, and it went well.”
Instead of hitting the ball on the ground, McMillan hit a line drive to right center field that was caught, but the ball was hit deep enough into the outfield to allow Meadows to tag up from third and race to home plate, beating the throw and scoring the championship-winning run for Rising Sun.
“I was just watching Catherine to see if she tagged up and scored,” McMillan described what she was thinking about after she made contact with the ball.
The Tigers emptied the dugout and ran towards Meadows and McMillan to celebrate a hard-fought championship.
Tiger head coach Paul Taylor knew that the eighth inning was going to be their best chance to win in the short term because of who they had coming up to the plate and who the Cavaliers had coming up to the plate in the top of the ninth inning.
“I knew when Catherine was the runner on second in extra innings, I couldn’t ask for anything better with Jordan at bat and Catherine on second base,” Taylor said. “I knew we better take advantage, or we would have been hurting because I didn’t want to roll into the ninth inning and keep demanding our pitchers to keep getting people out. That was our opportunity, and that’s what I told them that ‘it’s gotta happen now.’”
One of the main reasons why Rising Sun was positioned to win the state championship was the strong combined pitching performance from McCullough and Williams. The pair took a combined perfect game into the seventh inning, retiring the first 19 batters before Calvert’s Grace Atherton singled with one out in the seventh.
By the time the game ended, McCullough and Williams combined to pitch eight shutout innings, allowing just two hits and giving up no walks while striking out eight.
McCullough took to the pitching circle first and threw three perfect innings and striking out four, and her game plan was to give what the Cavalier batters gave her.
“I was so excited to be there. Honestly, my goal was just to get the ball in the strike zone. If they strike out, that’s great, but mainly I trust my defense,” McCullogh said. “I just wanted to put the ball in there and get the batter out.”
Williams came into the game in the fourth inning and stymied Calvert, retiring the first 10 batters before the Atherton single, and the combination of her curveball and the fastball to the outside corner kept Calvert off-balanced.
It was the seventh inning where Williams faced the most danger when Calvert had its best scoring chance when it had runners on first and second and two outs, but Williams put all of that out of her mind and proceeded to get Alexis Drayer to ground into a force play to end the inning.
“Honestly, I was just trying not to think at that point because overthinking doesn’t get you anywhere,” Williams, who finished with four strikeouts in five innings, said. “I was just focusing on getting the next girl out and relying on my defense because they are good behind me.”
The victory comes one year after the Tigers suffered a heartbreaking 5-4 loss in eight innings in the 2022 state championship game, and they used that loss as their motivation to get back into this position and redeem themselves.
“Coming off of last year and feeling the anger and devastation that we went through, it feels so much better to win it this year than it would have if we won last year,” McCullough said.