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It was a spring that featured much more than April showers producing May flowers for county high school teams and athletes.
April’s regular season brought May’s what-could-have-been during the deep stages of the playoffs, as the McDonough softball and La Plata baseball teams could attest as well as North Point track and field speedster Mercedes Tillman.
La Plata junior Paige DeMent, Westlake senior DeMetris Hazly-Ward and the Thomas Stone girls 1,600- and 3,200-meter relay squads were exempt from the heartbreak of getting oh-so-close to state glory but only to fall short.
DeMent (shot put), Hazly-Ward (triple jump) and the Stone relay runners of juniors Rachel Halmon and Jasmin Daniels, sophomore Kaceedra Mitchell and freshmen Sonyel Williams and Kolbi Sims captured Class 3A state championships during Memorial Day weekend at Morgan State University’s Hughes Stadium in Baltimore.
Halmon, Daniels and Sims were part of both state-winning relay quartets, teaming with Williams and Mitchell in the 1,600 and 3,200, respectively.
“It was pretty cool, just an unbelievable feeling because I’ve come so far this season,” DeMent said after celebrating a second-straight state title in the shot put with a launch of 38 feet 7 inches, outlasting her nemesis from indoor season in Tamara Ovejera of Gov. Thomas Johnson of Frederick County.
Ovejera, also a junior, claimed the indoor state title in the shot put with a 3A record of 41-3 1/2 to outdo DeMent’s mark of 39-2 1/2 in February. The rivals did not square off in last year’s outdoor meet as Ovejera’s school competed in the 4A ranks then.
“I was really shocked that it happened because anytime [Ovejera] could’ve come back and won it,” DeMent said. “During indoor, she broke the state record and beat me. I felt she was more favored by a lot of people, and yeah, it did [drive me].”
All seven state champions were first-team selections within the All-Southern Maryland Athletic Conference and All-County ranks in their track and field events.
“We came in seeded second and our goal in the [3,200 relay] was to break the state record of [9:17.2],” said Halmon, whose 1,600 relay group finished with a state-best 3 minutes 55.55 seconds while her 3,200 first-place team crossed the finish line in 9:21.72. “We didn’t break the state record [in the 3,200 relay], but we won and had our fastest time of the season. We worked so hard and we didn’t give back anything.”
Halmon’s dynamic state meet included a runner-up finish in the 800 and third in the 400.
Boys teammate Rakeem Jones also enjoyed an accomplished state meet. The Stone standout concluded a banner postseason by placing in all four of his events at states, taking runner-up in the 300 hurdles, fourth in the 110 hurdles and seventh in the 100 dash while contributing to a sixth place on the 800 relay.
Jones appropriately punctuated a season that saw him earn All-SMAC Most Outstanding and All-County Athlete of the Year nods.
“People know who we are now in Maryland,” Jones said after leading Stone to a county-best 38 points in sixth place at the state meet to ironically match the output and placement of his girls team there. “We used to go to track meets and people were like, ‘Who is Thomas Stone? We don’t have to worry about them.’
“I feel very accomplished because I put my school on the map.”
Close only matters in horseshoes and hand grenades
On the flipside of the coin, the emotions were not so grand for SMAC and county girls track and field Athlete of the Year Tillman.
After a dazzling run to the state meet that had Tillman a major 4A state contender in the 100, 200 and 400, the North Point phenom settled for no Maryland gold in any of her three events while bothered by a quad injury she sustained there.
The junior was the state runner-up in the 100, fourth in the 400 and sixth in the 200.
Tillman’s 800 relay squad, also a state-title hopeful, scratched out of the event due to her status and the sudden sickness of a teammate.
“I’m disappointed because of the injury,” Tillman said. “Mentally, I wasn’t prepared [for states]. This whole season, I predicted something bad would happen [at states] because I’ve been running four events at every meet. I knew my body would give out.
“I want to win a state title. It would be like the best thing. I have to take better care of my body.”
Disappointment only scratched the surface of the gut-wrenching emotions that plagued McDonough after the 2A state softball title game.
In line for the program’s second state banner in four years by taking a 2-0 lead into the final inning, McDonough was unable to secure the victory just three outs away from claiming the high-stakes contest.
Liberty of Carroll County pulled off a dramatic comeback in the bottom of the seventh for the 3-2 win that ended in controversial fashion on May 25 at the University of Maryland’s Robert E. Taylor Stadium in College Park
Tied at 2, Liberty’s Natalie Gill missed a bunt attempt as base runners Sammy Bost and Rebecca Oneto attempted a double steal.
Bost beat the throw to third but slid past the bag and appeared to be tagged out by McDonough’s Molly Simpson.
Instead of going back to third, Bost took off for home and Simpson chased her down the third-base line. Simpson could not get off a throw to home before Bost slid safely past McDonough catcher Vicki McKenzie, shockingly ending the state final in Liberty’s favor.
“I didn’t feel a tag,” Bost said on her slide past the third-base bag. “I wasn’t going to go back into a tag, so I figured I’d either get in a rundown or go [home] to score. I overslid the base and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m letting my team down right now.’
“I just got up and … I was like, ‘Okay I will go home then.’”
McDonough’s Julie Snavely, the All-County Coach of the Year, had a different view of the game-ending call.
“I saw a tag at third base,” she said. “I told my girls that the umpire missed the call, but you’ve got to move on. It’s unfortunate that play ended the ballgame.”
McDonough pitcher Jazzmyn Hayden was in total command entering the seventh, possessing a two-hit shutout through the first six innings.
She was also responsible for both McDonough runs in the state final thanks to an RBI double in the first and solo home run in the third.
While the way La Plata fell in the 3A state baseball semifinals was not as dramatically painful as what McDonough softball experienced in their postseason shortcoming, the playoff exit was still quite difficult given the opponent responsible for dealing the Warriors defeat.
Apparently, J.M. Bennett has La Plata’s number in the state playoffs.
For the second straight year, the Wicomico County program upended La Plata with a state title within grasp. This most recent time saw Bennett down the SMAC champion 6-1 on May 22 at Joe Cannon Stadium in Hanover.
Bennett went on to claim its second-straight state crown with its 44th consecutive win.
A year ago, La Plata suffered even more of a blow to its state-playoff nemesis after losing in extra innings of the Maryland final to Bennett.
“[Bennett] is a good team and took advantage of every mistake we made,” said La Plata’s John Childers, the All-County Coach of the Year. “They won that pitcher-hitter battle consistently throughout the day with two strikes. With two-strike at-bats this season, we’ve been really tough on pitchers and for some reason we could not lay off [Bennett starter Joe Cavalluzzo’s] stuff away.
“And we couldn’t get that out pitch [defensively]. That was the difference in the game.”
Jordan Twiford, an All-SMAC and All-County first-team selection at third base, started the state semifinals on the mound for La Plata but lasted just one inning plus two batters into the second, yielding two runs.
He gave way to All-County Player of the Year Anderson Burgess, who tossed the next four innings.
Twiford also knocked in La Plata’s only run on a fifth-inning single in the state semifinals.
He said, downcast afterwards, “Definitely the same team kicking us out two years in a row, and I was on our team starting last year and I think about that [state final] every night when I go to bed. Of course, I wanted to get revenge.”
Staff writer AJ Mason contributed to this report.