Time was running out for Howard senior first baseman Jake Vonella. As a ninth-grader at Howard in 2009, he stood on the baseball diamond and looked out at the fence in the far distance, bordering a vast expanse of grass, labeled with an ominous sign: "400."
"As a freshman I always said, 'I've got to hit one over,' but I never thought left field. I always thought right field because it's a lot shorter," said Vonella, who was 3-for-3 with a home run over the fence in deep left-center field in a 3-2 win over Wilde Lake Wednesday, April 25.
Howard has only one home game left in the regular season, April 29 against Centennial.
"It was like a dream come true. It's crazy," said Vonella, who also had a busy day at first base, recording 11 put outs.
Vonella's home run to lead off the bottom of the second inning tied the game at 1-1, and his RBI single to score Logan Seitz (leadoff single, stolen base) in the bottom of the third gave the Lions a 2-1 lead. He singled again to lead off the bottom of the fifth and was then intentionally walked after Brett Schaeffer's clutch two-out double drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth.
"This is as big of a field as you're gonna see. He had to hit that ball about 390 feet, that was a huge home run," coach Nick Hoffner said. "I was more proud that even after the home run he stayed with his approach up there. You see a lot of guys get out of their element especially after they hit almost a 400 foot home run. He took that single to left field to drive in another run, and then even his third at bat stayed with his approach middle away ... He was swinging the bat really well today, he's done a really good job for us this year."
Last year Vonella had only three hits — all singles — in 24 at bats.
"Honestly I thought it was a pop-up, I don't know, I just made solid contact and it went out," he said. "I've seen it once in practice, (shortstop) David Wolf hit one over in practice, only time I've seen it ... it was a fastball down the middle, it felt good."
Wilde Lake (1-10) took an early lead when Nick Wright (two stolen bases) hit a leadoff single and scored on a throwing error in the first inning. Wright then walked in the third and scored the go-ahead run — after Vonella's home run — on a Tommy Mee (2-for-3) RBI single in the top of the third.
But that was the last run the Wildecats would score.
Howard seniors Aidan Cain and Nick Duffey combined to pitch a three-hitter, striking out seven and walking two.
"I can't say enough about Nick Duffey coming in there and throwing four shut out innings, that's huge," Hoffner said. "He's been our savior all year."
Cain, who was 2-0 with a 1.97 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 21 innings pitched last year, had missed most of this season with an arm injury, but came out of the bullpen last Friday and started Wednesday's game.
"I thought he did a good job and I'm hoping he can build off of that and have another good start next week," Hoffner said.
Wilde Lake pitcher Tommy Aubin was also sharp on Wednesday.
The junior limited the damage from nine hits, four walks and two hit batters, escaping a bases loaded jam in the fourth. In all, Howard stranded 12 runners on base in six innings.
"Even though they only have one win they fought us hard, their guys didn't give up over there," Hoffner said. "I thought their pitcher did a good job, he battled out there all day ... we were just fortunate to get that big hit when we needed it."
Howard started three freshmen in Wednesday's win: catcher Eric Greenbaum (single, stolen base), left fielder Zach Phillips (walk, single) and second baseman Riley Seaman (single, three fielder assists).
"Our 7-8-9 hitters are all freshmen, I've got nine seniors opn the team also ... we're going to keep working, obviously we're hoping we're going to peak at the end of the season going into the playoffs," Hoffner said. "If we can keep the errors to one or less and keep the walks down we're going to be competitive and be in a lot of ball games."
WL (1-10) 101 000 0 - 2 3 0
Ho (6-6) 011 001 x - 3 9 2
Aubin and Mee. Cain (4), Duffey and Greenbaum.
2B: Ho — Schaeffer.
HR: Ho — Vonella.
Around the league
Atholton 8, Marriotts Ridge 1
Michael Slayton went the distance for the Raiders, limiting a strong-hitting Mustangs line-up to one run on five hits. The junior pitched to contact, throwing 60 of his 89 pitches for strikes, striking out one and walking two. At the plate, Slayton was 2-for-3 and an RBI on a bases loaded walk.
Catcher Paul Burmester led the Raiders at the plate, going 3-for-4 with two runs driven in. Brady Acker (two stolen bases) scored three runs and was one of five Atholton batters — along with Joe Bentz, Slayton, Austin Feuerman and Nick Raulin — to record two hits.
Glenelg 7, Centennial 2Seniors Tyler Wolfrey (two singles, RBI) and Carter Sancomb (double, 3 RBIs) led the Gladiators past Centennial on Wednesday. Alex Melcher also doubled in the win and Dylan Waddell stole a base and scored twice.Louis Gillespie earned the win, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits in six innings.
Hammond 5, Reservoir 1
Ben Miller hit a three-run home run in the first inning, and Hammond never looked back, beating Reservoir to improve to 8-4 and move into a tie with Marriotts Ridge for third place in the league standings.
Oakland Mills 9, Mt. Hebron 2
The Scorpions scored six runs in the top of the sixth to break open an otherwise close game at Mt. Hebron on April 23.
Joe Zayatz struck out ten and walked one in six innings, allowing two runs on eight hits. He also had two doubles and two RBIs. Tim Miles tripled, while Mike Mastrandrea singled, doubled and drove in a run.
Cody Thomas closed out the game with a shut out inning of relief.
Mt. Hebron took an early 1-0 lead on a Paul Lutchenkov two-out triple followed by a Brady Smouse RBI single.
River Hill 4, Long Reach 2
The Lightning took a 2-1 lead into the sixth, but River Hill rallied with three runs that inning and held on for the win.
League standings (as of April 24)
Oakland Mills, 10-1
Marriotts Ridge, 8-4
River Hill, 7-5
Mt. Hebron, 4-6
Wilde Lake, 1-10
Long Reach, 1-11
Thursday, April 25 schedule
Long Reach at Oakland Mills
Key at Chapelgate
Friday, April 26 schedule
Hammond at Mt. Hebron
Howard at Glenelg
Marriotts Ridge at Centennial
River Hill at Reservoir
Wilde Lake at Atholton