With a decade of coaching at Hammond — as an assistant and now the head coach — Brad Speierman can make a bold statement.
"This is the best hitting team at Hammond in my 10 years," he said.
With that talent, and two very promising young pitchers, Hammond has been poised to knock off someone this year.
But Mt. Hebron wasn't the victim today.
Instead, the Vikings pounded visiting Hammond for five runs in the fourth and won, 9-1, to maintain their standing in the county race.
Entering the day, Mt. Hebron, along with Howard, Glenelg and Reservoir, shared first place with two losses each. Howard also won today. Glenelg did not play today and the Reservoir at Marriotts Ridge game result was not reported by press deadline.
Maddie Bennett, a freshman, not only got the win after holding Hammond's potent offense to five hits, but she also drove in five of Mt. Hebron's runs.
Still, up until the fourth, it was a close game, and promised to continue that way.
Bridgette Vogan had scored in the bottom of the first on a sac fly by Bennett to give Mt. Hebron a 1-0 lead.
Hammond tied the game at the top of the next inning after Lauren Hutchison doubled with one out and scored on Samantha Speierman's single.
"I can see them knocking somebody off," said Mt. Hebron coach Chuck Struhar about Hammond. "Here it is in the second inning and it's 1-1 and a close game. They are doing all the little things, they are slapping (down the ball) and doing the things that cause fits."
But Mt. Hebron did all the right things, too. Bennett didn't throw wild pitches. Her catcher today, Lindsay Bishop, didn't let balls get passed her. Offensively, the Vikings were patient at the plate, moved runners around, didn't make any baserunning errors, and got five hits off starting pitcher Emily Speierman in her 3 2/3 innings of work.
"We have to work everyday. We have to do the little things or we are in trouble," said Struhar.
Mt. Hebron took a 4-1 lead in the third, with Sammy Cadigan and Allie Bluhm scoring on Bennett's double.
Bennett retired the Bears in order in the fourth, and relied on her defense in the sixth after Jill Purdy singled to lead off that inning.
"Maddie is a just a freshman and still learning to pitch. She's focusing a lot better, though she was a little rocky" in the second inning, said Struhar. "And she's an unbelievable hitter. She hits line drives all over the place. She's going to keep getting better and better."
Bennett has 27 RBIs already this season. Bluhm, a sophomore who has an on-base average of .689, scored twice and, in the big fourth inning, pushed across teammates Aaliyah Montague-Bass and Lauren Lettieri. Bennett and Kelly Jones, who also doubled, got RBIs as well.
Molly Bishop, Bennett's courtesy runner, scored twice in the win.
Hammond (7-6; 8-6) didn't pull the upset today, but the potential is still there.
And, said Hannah Force, who caught the entire game for the Bears, the future looks promising.
"Next year, they are going to be even better," said Hammond's only senior.
Neither today's loss nor the season to date has been disappointing, she added.
On the contrary, she said, "I'm having fun. This is my best year ever."
"Experience is the one thing our girls lack," said Brad Speierman. "Only three play ball outside of school. We didn't work enough on situations this week and that showed out there. They had us beat 3-1, 4-1, and we gave them the rest of the runs off secondary errors."
But, he added, "There's not a group of girls who practice any harder."
Mt. Hebron (11-2 county, 12-2 overall) still has a tough schedule ahead, including Glenelg.
Hammond - 010 000 0 --1 3 3
Mt. Hebron - 103 500 0 --9 5 1
LP: E. Speierman
2B: Ha - Hutchison; MH - Bennett, Jones
Howard one-hits Oakland Mills
Oakland Mills was shut out by Howard, 23-0, in five innings.
Kensey O'Neill pitched two innings and got the win after leaving the circle with an 8-0 lead.
She struck out four and did not walk a batter or allow a hit.
Sophomore Courtney Merson pitched the last three innings with six strikeouts, one hit and no walks.
Catcher Loryn McMillin doubled in two runs for Howard (12-3 overall). She also drew four walks for the afternoon. Julie Barnhouse had a double and two RBIs, Megan Centafont had two RBIs on three hits, and Julianna Natoli plated three runs.
Howard - 626 09--23
Oakland Mills - 000 00--0
2B: Ho - Barnhouse, McMillin
Venkatesen allows just one run in turnaround
It doesn't go down in the score book as a win for Chapelgate.
But it certainly will be remembered for being a turnaround game.
Catholic beat Chapelgate, 1-0, yesterday.
But a month ago, said coach John Isaac, Catholic "two-hit us" and won, 10-1.
"Yesterday we had Bethanne Venkatesen hold them to one run when their no. 9 hitter hit a solo home run in the third. She had 20 first-pitch strikes and was ahead of hitters all day, keeping them off balance with a great screwball, curve and fastball."
Courtney Bohn, playing at second for only the second time this spring, had seven assists and four putouts, "showing a golden glove to the point the Catholic coach told her she killed them in front of the whole Chapelgate team," said Isaac.
Chapelgate threw out three players at home, including one caught on a double steal attempt when Clara Sevy fired to catcher Cece Casamento to stop a rally in the fourth.
Chapelgate had runners in scoring position in four different innings but could not push a run across as Catholic "played great defense as well," Isaac said.
"This was the best effort we have had as a team in at least three years. We played errorless defense and made a few great stops while hitting ball fairly well just right at the wrong person at the wrong time," he added. "I made a couple of base running errors as the third base coach by not sending one runner one time and sending another at the wrong time that cost us.
"The girls were so excited to play that well, showing themselves that they can be very tough in the playoffs against anyone. Catholic is a strong team who is leading our division and defending the B conference champs. We gave them quite a scare today."
Selby gets lots of help from offense
River Hill (5-7 county, 6-7 overall) hit double digits in the third inning and beat Wilde Lake, 18-1, in five innings. Lauren Black had a triple in the win and Katie Woolls doubled twice. Megan Sterling and Courtney Colosimo also had doubles.
Ashley Selby pitched for the win.
Wilde Lake's scoring rally came in the third when freshman Hailey Setley singled up the middle. Olivia Harrison followed with another single, and Kourtney Harrison lined up the middle, sending in the run.
Several Wildecats (1-10, 1-11) had good days at the plate. Kourtney Harrison was 3-for-3 with an RBI, Alex Thomas was 1-for-2, and senior shortstop Emma Shaffer, Setley, and Olivia Harrison were all 1-for-3.
River Hill - 1 1 11 3 2 -- 18 22 0
Wilde Lake - 0 0 1 0 0 -- 1 7 4
WP: A. Selby
LP: O. Harrison
2B: RH - Colosimo, Woolls (2), Sterling
3B: RH – Black
This story has been corrected.