Seeing the momentum changing in the middle of the fifth inning against River Hill, Atholton softball coach Bob Baxter called his team together on the mound, smiled and told his players to relax.

River Hill’s Sara Mascone had just launched a two-run home run over the left-field fence, pulling the Hawks within one of the Raiders, 4-3. But, as Baxter calmly reminded his players, this was still their game to lose.

“I knew as soon as they hit that home run that it was time to come out and settle them down, let them know that we were the ones still in control with a 4-3 lead,” Baxter said. “When you play a good team, sometimes they are going to hit the ball, but the key is how you respond to that.

“I couldn’t have been more proud of the way they handled it.”

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Heeding their coach’s words, Atholton (10-1, 11-1) got out of the inning with two straight outs and then added three insurance runs in its final two at-bats to seal a 7-3 victory over River Hill (7-3, 8-3) on the road.

For a Raiders’ team that currently sits alone in second place in the county, only a year removed from finishing with a .500 overall record, it was just the latest example of how far this group has come.

“Today when they hit that home run, I feel like the old team from last year would have gotten down on themselves and it would have gotten worse,” said Atholton’s lone senior Melanie Berger, who contributed an RBI double among her two hits on the afternoon. “This year’s team has that drive to win. We know that, no matter what happens, we have the ability to pull it out.”

Having junior pitcher Alex Herschman on the mound certainly has helped in terms of giving the Raiders’ confidence. She has picked up all 11 wins this spring for Atholton and against River Hill she was her usual stingy self.

Herschman struck out six Hawks’ batters, allowing eight hits and pitching around four errors. And, while there were mistakes, her defense also pitched in with a couple big plays.

Right fielder Danielle Dolbow had two of the highlights, throwing out a runner at third in the fourth inning to retire the side and making a diving catch in the fifth.

Neither team managed any offense in the first two innings, but Atholton got things rolling in the third. The Raiders sent eight batters to the plate, got a couple big hits from Herschman and Berger, and took advantage of a couple mistakes by River Hill in the field. By the end of the frame, it was 4-0 Raiders.

River Hill kept battling, though, getting an RBI single by Caroline Hickey in the fourth and then a double from Kinsey Johnson followed by Mascone’s bomb in the fifth to cut the deficit to one.

“It was awesome to see us continue to battle and come back, but my biggest message to them was that you have to bring that intensity from the beginning,” River Hill coach Marni Rosenbaum said. “We can’t just to expect to turn it on, not against a team like that. Our mistakes — that was probably the most errors we’ve had all season — they made us pay for them.”

After the home run, Dolbow made her diving catch and then Herschman delivered a strikeout to maintain Atholton’s cushion. Then in the top of the sixth, the Raiders tacked on another run thanks to Herschman’s second RBI of the day.

“When we are in those tense situations, I think we all really focus on being composed and calm,” Herschman said. “I know for me, I just think lets get our defense off the field and get back to our offense — if we keep it close, I know we’re going to hit.”

Atholton pulled away even further in the seventh with Dolbow (2-4, two runs, RBI) and Amanda Peterson each scoring runs to create the final margin.

On the day, Gina D’Asto (2-5, run) and Nikki Martin (1-3, double, run, RBI) were also key contributors for the Raiders.

River Hill pitcher Sabrina Curtiss finished with seven strikeouts.

Having now played each of the county’s teams once, the Raiders find themselves only a game back of undefeated Glenelg (10-0, 13-0) and a game ahead of third-place Hammond (8-2, 9-2).

Atholton 7, River Hill 3