Courtney Merson

Howard pitcher Courtney Merson delivers against Mt. Hebron early in their game Friday afternoon. (Photo submitted by Renee Bishop / April 25, 2014)

The battle to decide first place in Howard County softball will have to wait a little while longer.

Heavy rains that arrived in the fifth inning Friday eventually forced the match-up between Howard (10-1) and Mt. Hebron (10-1) to be postponed in the bottom of the sixth. Currently, following an inning-ending catch by Howard centerfielder Taylor McGrann, the Lions hold a 7-6 lead on the visiting Vikings.

There were several lengthy discussions as to whether the game would be called or postponed, but ultimately it was decided that the two teams would pick things back up. and finish things out from where the game left off at a future date. (ISaturday was originally announced as the completion date, but that has since been changed).

“It’s a tough situation because I’m not entirely sure what the rule is, but I’m the kind of person who would like to see the game finished,” Howard coach Chuck Rice said. “It’s just a shame the weather couldn’t hold out. It was getting dangerous out there in the sixth and I’m honestly a little surprised they let it go as long as they did.”

As it is, the weather has already played a significant role in the game’s outcome.

Heading into the bottom of the fifth, Mt. Hebron was in complete control. Vikings’ pitcher Evvie Buehlman had allowed just one hit — an infield single by Taylor McGrann in the first inning — and had retired eight straight batters.

On the other side, Mt. Hebron’s bats plated a run in the first on an RBI single by Alli Bluhm and two more in the third on a 2 RBI single by Rylee Kinsella.

Ahead 3-0, the Vikings were cruising.

“I thought we were playing really well, moving people, hitting and doing everything I wanted to do,” Mt. Hebron coach Chuck Struhar said.

But in that bottom of the fifth, as the rain began, Howard catcher Alli Jakubek changed the momentum with one swing of the bat.

The senior captain laced a lead-off double off the fence in right center for the first ball the Lions had hit out of the infield all day. Brittany Bryson followed by reaching on an error by the Vikings’ outfield and then Lori Sena walked.

With the rain now coming down fairly steady, Taylor McGrann came up next and delivered a 2-RBI single, followed by a 2-RBI double by Courtney Merson that suddenly gave Howard its first lead of the game.

“Alli hit the ball and then Brittany came up and got on when they couldn't make the grab, so suddenly we had a second and third situation and you could feel everything starting to change,” Rice said. “It was the second and third time through and we started to get our timing down. We sat fastball and found the holes.”

Mt. Hebron switched pitchers, bringing in Maddie Bennett, but Howard kept its foot on the accelerator.

Kayli Paugh walked to put two runners on and then, with still no outs, Berit Batterton came up trying to bunt the runners over. With the wet ball the throw to first on Batterton’s hit sailed all the way to the fence in right field. The two runners on base, along with Batterton, came around to score to make it 7-3.

“It was pouring down rain, you can’t hold onto the ball, what are you going to do … it’s very tough,” Struhar said. “I’ve been doing this long enough to know, it’s hard enough to pitch sometimes without rain and suddenly you can’t pitch anything besides fast balls and they caught up to it. They hit some hard balls and the game changed.”

Howard pitcher Kayli Paugh found herself having to deal with those same adverse conditions in the top of the sixth, as the rain began coming down even harder. The ball had to be switched out and dried after every pitch making control an issue, which Mt. Hebron took advantage of to close the gap.

A pair of walks to start the inning and then a wild pitch moved the runners into scoring position for Rachel Cadigan, who delivered an infield RBI single. Sammi Cadigan later hit a hard ball to short that scored another run, followed by a SAC fly by Maddie Bennett to plate Mt. Hebron’s third run of the frame.

Aaliyah Montague-Bass hit a high fly ball to the outfield with two outs and a runner at third, but McGrann came up and made the catch to end the inning.

Before Mt. Hebron took the field for the bottom half of the frame, though, the umpires finally made the call to stop play. The initial word was that Howard had won considering the game had gone five complete innings, but later it was decided that the game would be finished at a later date.