Howard softball

Howard's softball team celebrates on the field Saturday after securing this year's county championship. (Photo courtesy of Clint Bryson / May 3, 2014)

Howard not only secured this year’s county title outright on Saturday against Reservoir, but accomplished the feat in grand fashion.

Playing the Gators in a doubleheader, the Lions used five home runs — three by Kayli Paugh — to win the opener, 6-1, and then completed the sweep in game two with a walkoff 5-4 victory courtesy of three runs in the bottom of the seventh.

With a two-game lead on the rest of the county heading into the day, the first victory guaranteed a share of this year’s title and then the second clinched sole possession of the crown — the program’s first since 2011.

“This is a big thing for us and knowing that I could tell the girls outright afterward that the county championship was theirs … it was definitely a special moment,” Howard coach Chuck Rice said. “To win it, and to do it that way, it’s something these girls will always have.”

Howard 6, Reservoir 1 (Game 1)

The Lions came roaring out of the gates in the opening game, smacking three home runs over the fence in the top of the first.

Taylor McGrann led off with a shot to right, Paugh followed two batters later with a solo home run to center and then Berit Batterton continued the onslaught with her own solo shot to centerfield.

“Counties is a big deal and we knew what was on the line,” Paugh said. “We came out really motivated and I think having hit so well yesterday against Oakland Mills, it just kind of carried over. I know I personally came in with a lot of confidence and I just tried to keep that going.”

Paugh, who had homered against Oakland Mills a day earlier, was just getting started against Reservoir.

By the time she got up for the second time, the Howard lead had grown to four runs courtesy of an RBI single by Kimmie Vaughn in the second inning. And with another moonshot, this time to left, Paugh upped that advantage to 5-0.

Then, two innings later, Paugh launched her third home run of the day to make it 6-0.

“I was feeling it today and I went up there swinging,” said Paugh, who had previously hit three home runs in a single game during her sophomore year on JV.  “I mean I saw the ball really well and sometimes, I guess, you just get into one of those zones.”

Reservoir didn’t give Paugh a chance to make it four home runs in four at bats, opting to intentionally walk her in the seventh. By then, though, the game was well in hand.

For as good as she was at the plate, though, Paugh was just as masterful in the pitching circle. She allowed just two hits and struck out six.

Reservoir’s lone run, coming in the bottom of the seventh by Monica Lamm, was unearned.

Howard 5, Reservoir 4 (Game 2)

While the Gators mustered little offense in the opener, they certainly wasted little time changing the tide in game two.

Right out of the gates against Howard pitcher Courtney Merson, Carly Clarke walked and came around to score on an RBI double by Anna Bennett. Two batters later, Caroline Winand singled Bennett home to make it 2-0.

That early offense, combined with Emily Wang settling in to pitch a scoreless opening two innings, had Reservoir looking like a completely different team.

“I was really proud of how the girls recovered. Really, after the fourth inning of the first game, I thought they showed a life in them, a fire in their eyes, and we came out in that second game with a lot of energy,” Reservoir coach Julie Frisvold said.