The first time Hereford and Eastern Tech met this season, the Mavericks didn't even hit a ball out of the infield against Bulls pitcher Erin Collins in a 3-0 loss. Collins, an All-Metro first-team selection last year, feared more for her prowess at the plate than in the circle, allowed just one hit in that game — a bunt single.
In Monday's Baltimore County softball championship game at CCBC-Catonsville, again facing Collins, No. 1 Eastern Tech was eager to prove that performance at the plate was an outlier.
Natalie Bates hit a two-run double in the first inning and the visiting Mavericks built an 8-0 lead before holding off a late rally by No. 5 Hereford to win, 8-4, for Eastern Tech's seventh straight county crown.
"We did have a really off day the last time we played them," said Mavericks pitcher Jodie Bronushas, who gave up six hits four runs (none earned) in seven innings. "We couldn't work together or hit the ball or anything, so we just really came out banging."
While Collins wasn't nearly as dominant as she was in the upset win April 27, she opened the game with two quick outs and, after allowing a single by shortstop Casey Turner, struck out cleanup hitter Jodie Bronushas swinging to seemingly end the top half of the inning. But the ball got away from catcher Emilee Cope, enabling Bronushas to advance to first base while Turner went to third. Bronushas then stole second without a throw, and Bates drove in both runners with a line drive to left-center.
Collins struck out another batter, third baseman Amaya Chmielewski, but the third strike was once again dropped, allowing Chmielewski to reach safely. The Mavericks (16-1) stayed aggressive, taking the open base to put runners on second and third. Collins got Isabella Schwing to hit a hard grounder to second, but the ball was bobbled, allowing an additional run to score. Collins finally got out of the inning by inducing a groundout back to herself, but the Bulls (13-4) found themselves down 3-0.
"Once you get these extra runners on base, it's hard to keep the runs down," said Collins, who allowed just two earned runs and finished with 12 strikeouts to eclipse 400 in her career. "When you get into these kind of situations, it's pretty hard to get around it, because it's like a whole new game."
In the second inning, it was more of the same defensive struggles for the Bulls. Second baseman Hannah Pfarr led off with a bunt single and advanced to third after two passed balls. A walk put runners on the corners, and the Mavericks took the opportunity again take second base, as the Bulls again chose not to throw down. A sacrifice fly to right field by Turner made it 4-0, and another dropped third strike against Bronushas, followed by a throw that hit her in the back as she sprinted toward first, put Eastern Tech up 5-0. Bates singled up the middle to put runners on the corners, and after another swipe of second base, Bronushas scored on a passed ball to make it 6-0. Collins ended the inning with a strikeout — her fifth in two innings.
"We had too many passed balls. We waited too late to starting hitting the ball," Hereford coach Laura Blama said. "But we still have a lot of confidence that we can turn this around for next time. I think they showed a lot of resiliency coming back late in the game."
While Collins and the Bulls were struggling to get outs, Bronushas retired the first six batters she faced. After catcher Miranda Burton hit an RBI triple over the right fielder's head and the Mavericks scored another run on a dropped third strike, the lead had swelled to 8-0 after three innings.
"We came out with a lot of energy in the beginning. We knew that Erin had had our number last time we played them, so it worked out pretty well for us," Eastern Tech coach Jack Meyers said. "We hit the ball pretty good today, defended pretty good. It kind of fizzled out toward the end, but that's to be expected against a good team like Hereford."
Meyers said the Mavericks aggressiveness on the base paths is something the team prides itself on, along with solid defense. Eastern Tech outhit the Bulls only 8-6, but committed two few errors and put pressure on Hereford's defense by attempting to take extra bases.
"Anything in the dirt that trickles a little bit, we take the extra base," he said. "These kids know to put the pressure on the defense. That's the way we play — be as aggressive as possible once we get on base."
The Bulls chipped away in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI double by first baseman Destiny Sutton, but the real rally began in the seventh. With Bronushas still in the game, left fielder Carly Stevens led off with a single and right fielder Jenn Abbott worked a walk to put runners on first and second with no outs. After second baseman McKenzy Hall popped out to third and shortstop Michaela Watts singled to left, in stepped Collins with the bases loaded.
After a frustrating and sloppy start, here was Hereford with its star player at the plate in the team's most crucial at bat thus far, a chance to get right back in the game with one swing. That swing lofted a high pop between second and right field, and an error by Turner allowed a run to score to make it 8-2. But with the runners freezing, the dropped ball led to a forceout at second, leaving runners on the corners with one out.
Cope hit a two-run double to left that pulled the Bulls within 8-4, but Sutton's line drive to center was easily caught to seal the victory, avenging the Mavericks' only loss of the season.
The season series between the teams ends tied at one, but with a young roster, Blama thinks the Bulls are only going to be that much more prepared the next time they face their county rivals.
"The more comfortable they get against their team and their defense, the more confidence they're going to have a third time," she said.