Down a run heading into the bottom of the sixth inning of Wednesday’s 3A East regional semifinal softball game against Howard, Mt. Hebron knew it was running out of time for a chance to extend its season and beat the Lions for the first time in four years.
“Our seniors have never beaten Howard, so this was their last chance,” said Mt. Hebron junior Alli Bluhm, whose two-out bloop single down the right-field line scored the tying run in that bottom of the sixth.
“Seeing them put that one run up there, falling behind … I think that only motivated us more. All of us were determined to do what we could to pull this out.”
Mt. Hebron (18-5) went on to score a total of two times in the sixth inning, getting the second run when Maddie Bennett crossed the plate on a throwing error, and that ended up being all it needed to hold on for a 2-1 victory over the Lions that advances the Vikings into the regional finals.
“We’re not ready to be done … we weren’t going to give up. It took us awhile to score, but we kept battling,” said freshman pitcher Evvie Buehlman, whose three-hit, nine-strikeout effort on the rubber for Mt. Hebron was a major reason the Vikings were even in position for the late-inning heroics.
Mt. Hebron now advances to face River Hill, a 5-4 winner over Reservoir in the other region semifinal, on Saturday at 2 p.m.
It became obvious pretty early on to both coaches, Howard’s Chuck Rice and Mt. Hebron’s Chuck Struhar, that their semifinal matchup was going to be an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel.
Buehlman came out and set down the side in order in the top of the first, striking out two, and then Howard’s Kayli Paugh answered with two strikeouts of her own in the bottom half of the inning to get around a walk.
It wasn’t until the bottom of the third inning that either team managed a hit, with Buehlman breaking the ice with a hard shot to right. And by the end of the fourth inning, she still was the only batter to reach on something other than a base-on-balls.
“You could tell right away that both pitchers were on their game and that one or two runs could win it,” Howard coach Chuck Rice said. “There was definitely a feeling that whoever scored first was going to put a lot of pressure on the other team.”
Howard threatened to break the scoreless tie in the fifth inning, loading the bases on a couple walks and then a bunt single by Shannon Wiley. But Buehlman, like she did all afternoon, dug down and executed.
She got a ground ball to second base that Rachel Cadigan fielded and fired home for a force-out at the plate to record the second out. Then she struck out the next batter to keep the game tied.
“We had our opportunities and credit to her for pitching well enough to get out of those opportunities,” Rice said. “She got some big outs.”
Struhar echoed the sentiment about his freshman hurler.
“Unbelievable effort from her … that was a star performance,” he said. “She got herself in trouble a few times, but every time she seemed to step up and was the shutdown pitcher we needed her to be.”
Howard did finally get on the board in the sixth, taking advantage of an error, a SAC bunt and then an RBI single by Julie Barnhouse off a Mt. Hebron fielder to go ahead 1-0.
Whatever momentum the Lions had snagged with the run, however, was quickly grabbed back by Mt. Hebron. In the bottom of the sixth, Bridgette Vogan led off with a walk, Buehlman hit into a fielder’s choice and then Bennett delivered a single up the middle to put runners on first and second.
Then, after Paugh came through with a strikeout, Bluhm stepped to the plate and delivered one of the biggest hits of the season. Her looping fly ball, that hugged the right-field line, was called fair by the umpire and it drove in pinch-runner Molly Bishop.
“(Kayli) is actually my best friend, so I was thinking as I went up there that I’ve seen her a million times and I just need to relax and put the ball in the green somewhere,” Bluhm said.
The next batter, Erin Vogan, hit a bouncer just in front of home plate, but Howard's ensuing throw glanced off the glove of the first baseman and into the outfield. The overthrow allowed Bennett to cross with the go-ahead run.