Theresa Jones was nervous before Tuesday’s first pitch against Ocean Lakes in the playoff game for the Coastal Conference’s first seed.
The Kellam softball coach knew the Dolphins would be fired up to avenge their two regular season losses to her Knights. But Jones’ girls took control from the get-go and assured their coach the third time wouldn’t be a charm for the Dolphins.
Kellam’s bats built an early lead for starting pitcher Krista Waller, who was untouchable while closing the game in a 10-3 win. The victory gave the Knights the conference regular season crown and an automatic berth in the 6A South Region tournament.
“This was huge,” Jones said.
Beating Ocean Lakes three times “feels great,” she said, “and to be able to seal the region berth was what made this even bigger.”
As in their second game against Ocean Lakes, the Knights (13-7, 10-3 Coastal) struck big early. Kellam scored five runs in the top of the first inning off four hits. Ocean Lakes cut into the lead, scoring three runs in the second and third innings to pull within 5-3.
The Knights responded with another five-run inning in the top of the fourth to take a 10-3 lead, while Waller, a sophomore, was dominant in the final four innings against a deep and talented lineup. She retired the last 12 Dolphin hitters in order.
“She was amazing today,” Jones said. “I don’t ever see her get rattled too much. She just goes out there and keeps plugging away. She goes pitch by pitch and doesn’t rush things.”
Waller found success against Ocean Lakes’ most potent hitters at the top of the order — Jessica Goldyn, Maddy Glaubke and Chloe Fox, who went a combined 2-for-10. Few pitchers in the Beach can limit that third of the Dolphins’ lineup.
“Definitely a big relief to get those top hitters out,” Waller said. “Helped me stay focused throughout the game. Getting a big lead is always comforting while you’re pitching.”
The Knights bats exploded again for 13 hits off Dolphins starter Lindsay Magnant (four hits, five runs in a third of an inning) and Michelle Lehan (nine hits, five runs, seven K’s in 6 2/3 innings). Kellam stayed aggressive with the large lead. The Knights left 10 runners on base (seven in scoring position) and had at least a runner in scoring position in six out of seven innings.
All nine Kellam starters in the lineup had a hit or an RBI. Allie Jarrett (two RBIs), Hannah Hummel, Rachel Bolin (RBI) and McKenna Swinson (two RBIs) each notched two hits, while Cameron Thompson and Kyleigh Allen-Cason added two RBIs each. Madison Wilson (one hit, one walk) and Taylor Telford (one hit) reached base twice and scored.
“We’ve just been clicking for eight games,” Jones said. “They’re picking each other up. When one doesn’t do it the other does. We have different heroes every game.”
For Ocean Lakes, right fielder Mackenzie Burke had two hits and two RBIs while Alyssa Cowan notched two triples. The Dolphins bats went quiet when they were needed most in the final four innings.
Kellam takes an eight-game winning streak into its Coastal Conference tournament semifinal match Wednesday against No. 4 Bayside. Ocean Lakes, which gets the conference’s No. 2 seed, plays No. 3 First Colonial Wednesday. Both games will be played at Kellam High.