When the chips were down in the last week of the MVAL Antietam softball title race, coach Katy Barnhart’s Smithsburg Leopards stepped up to the challenge to win their second straight conference championship outright.
On May 2, Brooke Parks and Kinsey Shifflett hit RBI singles in the sixth inning to give the Leopards a 2-1 victory over Clear Spring, taking sole possession of the conference lead and avenging a 3-2 loss to the Blazers earlier in the season.
Two days later, Cara Ferguson struck out six and delivered a key RBI triple as Smithsburg wrapped up the title with a 4-2 victory over Catoctin. A loss would have left the Leopards, Blazers and Cougars in a three-way tie, but Smithsburg was not in a sharing mood.
To the victor goes the spoils for the second straight year, as Barnhart is the 2012 Herald-Mail Washington County Softball Coach of the Year.
Barnhart called the Leopards’ first victory over Catoctin — a 7-4 triumph in eight innings in Thurmont, Md., on April 13 — the key point in their season.
“We were tied in the bottom of the seventh and they had the bases loaded and no outs,” Barnhart recalled. “(Catcher Kinsey) Shifflett got the last out at home — she scooped a short-hop (throw) and she just got drilled at the plate and held on. That was such a turn of events at their place.”
Smithsburg finished 18-2 overall and 13-1 in the Antietam. Over Barnhart’s three years as head coach, the Leopards are 50-10 with two Antietam titles and a second-place finish.
While the Leopards had an incredible core group returning — six 2011 All-County First Team players returned in Parks, Shifflett, Ferguson, Samantha Gladhill, Shayla Murray and Karah Knight, all of whom made the first team again this season — Barnhart had to tinker a little bit to fill holes and reconfigure the defense.
“We lost three very solid seniors last year who played the corners and center field, and those are not easy positions to fill — especially defensively,” Barnhart said. “(Freshman Kayla) Huntzberry is a good athlete and has a good stick, so we didn’t think we would lose anything (in left field). Samantha transitioned very well into the center field spot and (April) Lee made some game-saving catches this year (in right field). Krystal (Holl) has never played varsity softball and she did very well at an important position (first base). ... The kids worked very hard to get used to new positions they’d never played before.
“We had good senior leadership in the middle of the infield with Karah and Shayla. Both of them are good teammates and the other players respected them. They did a great job leading a young and inexperienced group of younger players, and that helped.”
The Leopards outscored opponents 182-24 this season, hitting .399 as a team.