Two years, two Little League Softball World Series championship games, and now, after Wednesday night's 7-2 loss in Portland, Ore., two crushing defeats.
Last season, the Rowan County softball team marched through the tournament and into the title game only to fall 5-1 in the final. Their once-mighty offense, the one that had carried to them that point, had dried up all at once.
And so this year, the girls had something to chase: redemption, or revenge even. That same juggernaut offense only continued purring along, posting 10, 11, even 17 runs in a single game.
Then in the semifinal, the engine hitched. Not for good, as four late runs proved enough to advance past Indiana, but certainly for a moment.
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The question then was this: Would Rowan rediscover it's hitting prowess before the title game, or would it relive last season's agony and short-circuit in the biggest moment?
For half an inning, there was hope. The North Carolina natives had three hits and scored once in the first half a frame – perhaps their proficiency at the plate was back.
Or perhaps not. The next several innings were an elongated stumble hitting-wise, while on the other hand Texas proved allergic to outs. Two innings in, Rowan trailed the girls from Waco 7-1.
The score would mostly carry – to its credit, Rowan was resilient until the end, scoring a second run in the sixth inning before an untimely double play ended the chance of a rally before it began. In a matchup of unbeaten teams, only one could sustain, and it proved to be Texas on Wednesday.
North Carolina could only muster as many hits past that first frame (two) as it did errors, and so with a final toss to first base, the Southeast Region team from this year's tournament finally bowed out.
But there is not grief alone for Rowan. Three years running this team has made the championship game of the LLSWS, and it even brought a championship back home in 2015. Perhaps there will be more in the future, but unfortunately for Rowan, they will have to wait at least another year.
Brendan Marks: @brendanrmarks