Maddie Bennett and Mt. Hebron didn’t have to think back very far to drum up some confidence heading into their 3A East playoff game against Centennial.
After all, it had been just three days since Bennett had pitched a one-hit shutout against the Eagles on senior day. So Thursday, at home in the opening round of the postseason, the Vikings simply had to stick to the same winning formula.
Bennett was masterful once again on the pitching rubber, striking out seven and allowing just two hits, and the Mt. Hebron bats did the rest on the way to an 11-0 victory.
“It definitely helped having just seen them, knowing what we were capable of,” said Bennett, who added an RBI at the plate. “I got to know their batters a little bit better last game … figure out what worked and what didn’t. I changed my patterns up a little, threw a few more breaking pitches, to keep them guessing.”
While Centennial (8-12-1) struggled to find its rhythm at the plate, the Vikings’ capitalized. Taking advantage of three walks and two hit batters in the bottom of the first inning, Mt. Hebron (16-5) grabbed a quick 3-0 lead.
Aaliyah Montague-Bass (3-3, 4 RBI) delivered a big RBI single to lead the early push.
Then in the third inning, the Vikings were back at it with four runs on three hits to push the lead to seven.
“We had to stay aggressive — keep getting hits to get those runners in,” said Montague-Bass, who had a 2-RBI double in the third inning. “Just because they were having a bad start, we couldn’t let up at all and tone it down. I think we all just tried to play our game and keep (increasing) the lead.”
Mt. Hebron added another four runs in the bottom of the fourth to create its first double-digit advantage. Bennett then came out to pitch in the fifth and shut the door with a pair of groundouts and a strikeout around a couple walks.
Centennial’s only two hits on the day came from Katie Judd, who went 2-2 with a double.
The 11 runs at the plate for Mt. Hebron marked the sixth time in the last seven games that the team has scored in double digits. Thursday, against Centennial, all nine batters reached base at least once.
In addition to Montague-Bass, offensive highlights included a pair of hits from Rachel Cadigan and a 2-RBI double from Evvie Buehlman, who also had two hits.
“Hitting is contagious … I’ve been doing this long enough to know that,” Mt. Hebron coach Chuck Struhar said. “The girls see one another out there driving the ball and suddenly everyone is walking up, swinging away and having a good time. Right now, even our outs are hard outs.”
For the Vikings, the victory was the continuation of a late-season surge that included nine straight wins to close the regular season. After going through an early-season slump that saw the team slip to 5-5 in league play, Struhar says his girls have done a terrific job of staying the course.
“There was that point where we had lost all those one-run games and it would have been easy to get discouraged, but no one hung their heads. We just got back in the cage and kept doing all the things we’ve always done,” Struhar said. “They trusted that we were doing the right things and now it’s paying off.”
Mt. Hebron now advances into a regional quarterfinal match-up on the road against J.M. Bennett on Monday.
Mt. Hebron 11, Centennial 0
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