Overshadowed by rival Laurel the past several years, the Delmar softball team has played second fiddle to the two-time state champions.
But not so much on Thursday.
The No. 3-ranked Wildcats overcame two- and four-run deficits against the “Strike-out Queen,” Regan Green, rallying behind monster home runs by seniors Shelby Murphy and Savannah Brown to topple the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs 8-7.
“I just think as a coach, as a spectator, as a parent – that had to speak volumes to the level these kids are playing,” Delmar head coach Michelle Niblett said.
Green opened the game with back-to-back strikeouts, looking in prime form before an unusual first inning walk. Green would throw a four-pitch strike-out to Shelby Murphy, but Laurel head coach Jodi Green was already concerned with her ace.
“It wasn’t Regan’s game,” Jodi Green said. “After that first inning I asked her ‘what’s going on, you’re not throwing very hard,’ and she said ‘I don’t know, I’m just not feeling it.'”
Wildcats starting pitcher Alexis Layton would struggle in her first inning against Laurel, hitting the first two batters before Kelsie Joseph advanced both runners on a sacrifice bunt.
Green was able to take advantage of both early runners and a strong wind to left field, hammering the ball over the left field fence to give Laurel the early 3-0 lead.
Delmar (5-1, 2-0 Henlopen) looked to have no answer through the fourth.
“Down 3-0 to a pitcher like that, they could of hung their hands and they didn’t – they just swung the bats,” Niblett said. “They’re just fighters and they’re just so focused.”
Green walked Ashton Riddle in the fourth, and Murphy legged out an infield single. Savannah Brown got the Wildcats on the board with a double past second.
Haley Rodgers beat a throw to first to make it 4-2 before Green racked up the seventh strikeout to end the inning.
Lackadaisical fielding hurt Delmar in the fifth as Avery Wheatley reached second on an error, knocked in by a Rachel Davis double to left on the next at bat.
“They had some errors, we had some errors and it’s just one of those things,” Jodi Green said.
Dialed in with Davis on second, Murphy, a former Laurel Bulldog, would find the sweet spot, drilling a Green pitch to center and giving Delmar the 5-4 lead.
“It does mean a lot to me because I used to go there,” Murphy said. “Hitting a home run off the ‘Strike-Out Queen’ means a lot to me.”
Jodi Green felt her team remaining calm in the fire was key.
“Trying to get them to relax, because playing a rival like that and the crowd with what they were I just want to girls to relax,” Green said. “If they got all tense I knew they’d quit so I just wanted them to relax and hit the ball.”
The Bulldogs would extend the lead to 7-5 with a Marissa Walls single to third before a grounder to third stopped the bleeding for Delmar.
The heated rivals would both go three-up, three-down on their next at-bats, giving Delmar one final chance to come back for a second time —this time with the top of their order. Delmar began with back-to-back singles to put two on.
“Just going through one time and some of them showed her bunts so they could say where they needed to make their contact,” Niblett said. “That had a lot to do with it — just going the second time through it.”
With a chance to drive in a few runs it was just a matter of the perfect stroke for Brown as she stepped up to the plate. Focusing in, the senior first baseman rocketed a bomb to center field – giving Delmar the 8-7 lead.
“Some of us might get down but others pick us up, we play as a team,” Murphy said. “Not just one person.”
In typical Laurel/Delmar fashion, the squads took the game until the final out of the game when the Bulldogs first two batters reached on singles. Settling in, Layton would force a ground ball on Regan Green before Ullman was thrown out at first attempting to beat a throw.
“Alexis struggled today but she never stopped,” Niblett said. “She kept playing and throwing good pitches.”
Layton’s final pitch of the game would lock up the upset win for Delmar as Natalie Culver made weak contact, dribbling a ball down the first baseline and giving Laurel its first loss of the season.
“I knew we would come through it, we played with our hearts,” Layton said. “We came in there and we battled and battled until the end and it showed, we came out with the win in the end. I just believe in the team and they believe in me.”