South County’s softball team played the unfamiliar role of underdog in 2011.
The Stallions, led by first-year head coach Gary Dillow, had to replace seven graduated starters. The two returning starters changed positions, and five freshmen were plugged into starting roles. A rebuilding year was more likely than continuing their streak of district championships.
The Stallions’ season came to an end on June 1 with a 4-0 loss to McLean in the Northern Region semifinals at Robinson Secondary School. McLean pitcher Jamie Bell held the South County lineup in check, throwing a perfect game. While the Stallions were blanked in their final contest, the team’s accomplishments during the season went above and beyond those of an "underdog."
South County posted a 17-8 record, won its fifth consecutive district title and fell one win shy of qualifying for the state tournament, considerable accomplishments while starting five freshmen.
"If you had told me at the beginning of the season that we would have won 17 games and made the regional semifinals and won districts," Dillow said, "I would have called you a liar."
In 2009 and 2010, South County entered the postseason with an undefeated record. This year, the Stallions were the No. 4 seed in the Patriot District Tournament with a 12-7 overall mark.
"No one really believed in us except for, well, us," senior center fielder Julia Kastner said. "It feels a lot different. Before, we were top dog; everybody was trying to beat us. This year, we were underdogs. It was a lot different, but I like the feeling better being underdogs [and] getting the big wins."
Pitcher Rebecca Martin, catcher Haylea Greer, shortstop Whitney Burks, third baseman Caitlin Maglich and outfielder Courtney Ward were South County’s five starting freshmen. Martin performed well in the postseason, including a 12-inning, one-hit shutout against West Potomac in the district final on May 23, during which she struck out 17 Wolverines. Against McLean on June 1, Martin shut out the Highlanders for 5 1/3 innings before allowing four runs in the sixth.
"I was really proud we went five innings without them scoring," Martin said. "They had been so successful against Chelsey last year, who is such a good pitcher, so I was just really proud that we held them for those innings."
While youth was a big part of South County’s success in 2011, Dillow said veteran leadership played an important role. Kastner, who will play at Temple next season, was one of those leaders.
"Julia’s been huge," Dillow said. "Just to have a Division I level kid come and practice every day and show the younger kids what it means to actually work [is important], because they have no idea what it means to actually work in practice. To be able to have a kid like that come in and do the work and just lead by example [helps].
"Julia’s got all these accolades and she’s still hitting an extra bucket off the tee, she’s still hitting more soft toss. It makes it a little tough for the younger girls to take an afternoon off. She’s been huge that way."
With another successful season under their belt, the Stallions are unlikely to return to the role of underdog anytime soon.
"When we get back to this point again, we’ll have been here already," Dillow said of the team’s postseason experience this year. "For five freshmen to be able to say that and to have that experience, it’s going to be immeasurable down the line and it’s just going to be huge when we do get back here. It will help us to take that next step which is where we want to be. … Everybody expected a down year this year, but since there wasn’t one, we’re not going to sneak up on anybody anymore."