Chesapeake-Anne Arundel rediscovers offense, eliminates Bel Air in 3A state softball quarterfinals; Hart keys four home run explosion (VIDEO HERE!)

Jerzie Nutile (left) homered and pitched a four-hitter and Norah Hart hit a 3-run homer in the bottom of the fifth, leading Chesapeake-Anne Arundel to come-from-behind victory over Bel Air in a Class 3A state quarterfinal softball contest in Pasadena. The Cougars play at Northern-Calvert Wednesday in a state semifinal.

by Derek Toney

Chesapeake-Anne Arundel High second basemen Norah Hart felt like she let teammate Jerzie Nutile down in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s Class 3A state softball quarterfinal.

With one big swing, Hart atoned, and the Cougars are back in the state semifinals. The Cougars rallied for a 9-3 victory over Bel Air in Anne Arundel County.

Hart’s 3-run homer highlighted a seven-run surge, propelling the Pasadena school to its 15th state semifinals. Chesapeake (14-1) travels to Calvert County’s Northern Wednesday afternoon for a spot in Friday’s state championship game at Bachman Park in Glen Burnie

The Cougars trailed 3-2 when Hart sent an 0-2 pitch over the centerfield fence.

“The past inning I had two balls that usually I would’ve gotten so I said Jerzie is not going to be happy with me if I get up here and leave these two runners,” laughed Hart, who brought home Alison Pollack and courtesy runner Allison Kunes for Kendall Thomas) “I got to hit the ball…she threw the ball right where I really want it.”

Chesapeake hit four homers Tuesday as Nutile, Samantha Larkin and Alison Pollack hit solo shots. Seven players recorded a hit with Nutile, Pollack Kaitlin Young and Devan Wenger each getting two.

It was a pleasant – and timely – sight to behold for longtime Cougars coach Don Ellenberger.

“We haven’t been able to do that (hit) for quite awhile. Confidence was there,” said Ellenberger. “The way it’s been all year is once one starts it, everybody jumps on and it’s contagious. It’s been missing for the last 2 1/2 week so I hope it can stay with us.”

Pollack hit a two-run shot with two outs in the first to put Chesapeake up. The Cougars had runners on in each of the next three innings, including first and second with no outs in the fourth, but didn’t score.

Bel Air (15-5) got a solo shot from Makayla Lopez in the fourth, then used two singles and a Chesapeake fielding error to take a 3-2 lead. But the Cougars, starting with Nutile, rediscovered a comfort zone.

The senior leader led off the home fifth with a clean hard single to left. She was forced out at second on Pollack’s fielder choice, but touched all the bases an inning later with a long fly over the left centerfield.

“When we give up the lead, it gives me more fuel to power through and start something that we could just keep going,” said Nutile, who will play for Longwood University next spring. “It worked for the whole team.”

Nutile solidfied Hart’s game-changing homer, retiring the side in the sixth. She struck out nine and allowed four hits.

The Cougars added four runs in the home sixth with a leadoff homer from Larkin, Nutile’s homer and two runs scoring off a Bel Air wild pitch.

“Anytime you can have a lineup hit top to bottom, and you have confidence in them, that’s a blessing for a coach,” Ellenberger said. “We finally put it together.”

After gaining the lead and some momentum in the fifth Tuesday, Bel Air’s aspiration of returning to the state semifinals (reached in 2019) came apart.

“We knew coming into this that Chesapeake was a tough team and we’d be battling back and forth,” said Bobcats coach Nicole Cosgrove. “But I’m proud of how we played. We fought hard throughout.”

Cosgrove said losing senior Abby Bannan hurt the Harford County squad’s cause. The third basemen left the game in the second inning with a knee injury, trying to beat out a sacrifice bunt.

The Bobcats were able to play a full regular season in the spring, but Cosgrove thought a near three-week layoff before playing their first postseason game, didn’t helped her team.

“I always tell the girls the region championship is the expectation, anything beyond that is a bonus,” said Cosgrove.

Chesapeake hopes Tuesday’s offensive rejuvenation carries Wednesday down to Southern Maryland against perennial state powerhouse Northern-Calvert. The Cougars lost in the 2019 3A state final.

“We’re just happy to still be playing. When you’re down 3-2 and you come back, life looks a whole lot better,” said Ellenberger, who guided Chesapeake to back-to-back 4A crowns in 2008 and 2007. “We’re going to have to beat [Northern] and that’s not an easy task.”