North County ends Sherwood’s reign in 4A state softball, advances to first state title game since 2005; Sullivan has game-winning RBI(VIDEO!)

Breanna Clayton went the distance and Emma Sullivan had two hits, including a run scoring single in the bottom of the sixth as North County defeated Montgomery County powerhouse Sherwood in a Class 4A state softball semifinal in Ferndale Wednesday. The undefeated Knights will play undefeated Catonsville for the state title, Friday afternoon at Bachman Park in Glen Burnie.

by Derek Toney

Like many area high school athletic teams, North County’s softball team is happy to be playing after the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered its campaign last spring. An undefeated season or a state championship were the farthest things from the Knights’ collective mind.

Well, a funny thing is happening. North County is on the doorstep of history after defeating Montgomery County’s Sherwood, 3-1, in a Class 4A state semifinal at Holler Field in Anne Arundel County.

Sophomore Emma Sullivan’s RBI single in the bottom of the sixth secured the lead for good, and senior pitcher Breanna Clayton closed it out as the Knights are headed to nearby Bachman Park for their first state final since 2005. The Ferndale school will face Catonsville, Friday afternoon at 2:30, for the state championship.

The Knights (excuse the pun) slayed the dragon that is Sherwood, which dominated 4A state softball the past decade.

“Our girls came out with a ton of energy. They wanted to win this game,” said North County coach Kelly Guarnieri. “We fought all the way until the end…this is an amazing group of girls.”

The Knights, whose postgame celebration included an impromptu birthday recognition for catcher Bella Coates, a cupcake fight and a team picture with a captain’s hat, a sparkly cowboy hat and different colored bead necklaces, weren’t overwhelmed by the moment Wednesday.

“I came into the season, I didn’t care what happen win or lose, I was going to have fun with my team,” said Clayton, who sported the captain’s hat. “It’s great to be back after not having a season.”

Clayton scattered nine hits Wednesday in craftily navigating Sherwood, which hitters often made contact. The Warriors had several extended at-bats, finally breaking through in the sixth.

Sherwood, which won the 2019 title (sixth championship since 2010) over Glen Burnie, tied the game at 1 on Emily Stansky’s one-out double. The Warriors had runners on first and second with one out, but Clayton struck out the next batter and got her glove under a short pop between home and the mound to retire the side.

The Knights weren’t shaken.

Coach G (Guarnieri) told us what she normally tells us, play our game, it’s going to come out in our favor,” said Sullivan. “We believe in ourselves.”

Sullivan whose hopes of playing varsity as freshman in 2020 was ruined, calmly answered the call in the Knights’ penultimate game of the spring Wednesday. She singled home Linsey Voorhese, who led off the home sixth with a double off the left field fence.

Sullivan hustled home with the crucial third run after a Sherwood error. She sliced a shot inside the right field line for  a double to start the fourth. Coates, who received a postgame birthday serenade, lined a shot to right center for a RBI double.

The celebration started when third basemen Skylar Barton captured a pop out for the game’s final out. The Knights, who went undefeated in a truncated Anne Arundel County regular season, have outscored opponents, 25-1, in the postseason.

“I knew we had the potential. After losing last year, we had a lot of girls who hadn’t had a chance to play a varsity game until this year,” said Guarnieri. “From the beginning we started working and our goal was to get better every single day.”

And now, a state championship is within reach.

“We came into the season, we’re going to play everybody once and that was going to be it, so getting this season is great,” said Clayton, whose team entered the state playoffs after the MPSSAA decided late last month to have spring tournaments. “We’ve all made a lot of sacrifices, but I’m happy.”