The Howard baseball team continued its hot start to the 2015 season on Monday, defeating visiting Hammond, 7-2, and so far, a jar of salsa has been the Lions' unofficial mascot.
It all started during a team bus ride to Northeast High last week, when junior Zach Phillips opened a party size bag of Tostitos and a jar of Chi-Chi's Thick & Chunky salsa and began snacking.
"Let the Fiesta Begin!", the advertising slogan emblazoned on the salsa's label, has now become the Lions' rallying cry.
The Fiesta began on Monday in the bottom of the second inning, when Casey Crawford led off with a double to right field, followed by a KJ Murray single, a Reid Walsh sac fly, an RBI triple by JR Faulkner, and an RBI single by Phillips.
One inning later, the offensive onslaught continued with an Eric Greenbaum leadoff double, an RBI double by James Cain, an RBI fielder's choice by Sam Jacobson and an error.
Crawford, Murray, Walsh, Faulkner, Phillips and Greenbaum are all juniors.
"We've been hitting the ball really well from the start. Straight down the line-up, we've been getting support everywhere," said Cain, a returning all-county first team selection who also earned the win on the mound, striking out eight and allowing only two hits in five innings. "I knew just to try to keep the ball down and just keep us in the game ... it definitely helps knowing you're going to get some run support."
What made the Lions' outing on Monday even more impressive was that it came against Hammond ace lefty David Hutchison, who limited defending state champion Reservoir to one run in a 1-0 loss last week. Howard turned heads by defeating the Gators, 6-3, on opening day, ending their 11-game win streak.
"Hutch threw really well. The way he pitched didn't show on the scoreboard," Cain said. "He's one of the better pitchers in the county ... we had a good approach hitting the ball the other way, and we knew from our infield-outfield and when we were hitting on the field, it was blowing way out. People were hitting the ball way toward the fence because the wind was helping it out."
Cain's fellow senior, Devin Rowell, led off the fourth with a triple to the right field fence and then scored the Lions' final run on a groundout by Greenbaum. Rowell also made a difficult catch on a ball hit to right field in the first inning.
"Jimmy worked down, and he had his breaking ball and his splitter working today," Howard coach Nick Hoffner said. "With the bats, we just came out swinging ... it's early in the season, but so far, so good."
Cain said that keeping a fun approach to the game has helped the Lions play loose and relaxed so far this season.
"I think we have more energy this year. We've been having our fun but we're still staying focused," he said. "We have the salsa as our rally monkey type thing, just a fun thing to have on the bench. We've been bringing it out to every game since, and it seems to be working out. A little bit of superstition goes a long way for us."
Hammond got on the board in the fourth inning on a leadoff single by freshman Myles Johnson, who eventually scored on a sac fly by Andy Weaver. The Golden Bears scored again on a one-out RBI double by senior JT Brittain.
"We came out flat today," coach Casey Medairy said. "Not a lot of energy, and with a team like Howard, you can't take them lightly."
Howard's only loss was at Northeast, 6-3, after the momentous "salsa" bus ride, but the Lions will get a chance to avenge that loss on Wednesday in a double header with Northeast and Glenelg for their spring break tournament.
"They're a good ball club. I expect a good game out of them. They gave us a good game the first time, and I expect us to come out and play a little bit better the second time," Hoffner said. "I'm proud of my guys. They're doing a good job. They're out here working hard and doing everything we're asking of them right now."
Ha (1-2) 000 100 1 - 2 4 2
Ho (3-1) 033 100 x - 7 9 1
Hutchison, Smith (5) and Terrasa. Cain, Rowell (6), Olivier (7) and Greenbaum.
2B: Ha — Brittain. Ho — Crawford, Greenbaum, Cain.
3B: Ho — Faulkner, Rowell.
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