Big first inning propels Howard to softball playoff victory over Catonsville

The Class 4A North Region Section I final softball game was postponed for three consecutive days and moved to three different diamonds, but when it was finally played, on a turf field at Mount de Sales High, on Saturday, Howard proved to be just as adept in the rain as Justify was winning the Preakness.

Howard (17-5) scored five runs in the bottom of the first and extended the lead with runs in three of the next five innings to emerge with a 10-5 victory.

Senior Katie Unkle went 3-for-3 to lead the Lions.

The Comets (14-5) came into the game having won seven of their previous eight games.

“Our coach says all you can do is swing the bat and just hope you can get a good hit or it gets past the fielders, said Unkle, whose two-run double extended the lead to 5-2 in the first.

After Shanya Gordon, Julia Colton and Paige Eakes started the inning with walks, Emily Polimeni plated two runs with a single and Lindsey Smith had a single, before Unkle’s booming double.

“I was just really anxious, just waiting for a good pitch,” Unkle said. “I wasn’t anticipating anything because there was three walks before me and I really wasn’t expecting it, but I saw one that I liked and I just went for it.”

The inning ended with a diving catch by Catonsville second baseman Nicole Beautz.

Beautz is the Comets only senior and an All-County second team player.

The five runs erased a 2-0 lead after the top of the first inning.

Catonsville’s Erin Kreis doubled with one out and Dan’ya Truesdale singled.

Kreis came home on an infield single by sophomore Karly DiDomenico (3-for-4) and Truesdale scored on a sacrifice fly by Deanna Delaney.

In the top of the third, Catonsville cut the lead to 5-4 when freshman Devin Tracey (2-for-4) drove in the Christina Dayhoff, who had singled and Rachel Phillips, who reached first after a dropped third strike.

Tracey played the whole game at catcher despite only playing one inning on varsity after playing for the Comets’ Baltimore County JV championship team.

She wasn’t the only JV player in the spotlight.

Freshman Sammy Sisolak relieved Kreis, who was 8-4 on the mound this season, after the first inning and pitched the final five innings.

On the other side, Howard was also using a freshman on the hill, but Sam Hobert has been on varsity all season.

Hobert allowed 10 hits and walked two, while striking out two, but she minimized the damage despite several baserunners.

“She has come a long way this year,” Howard coach Chuck Rice said. “We’ve been trying to groom her on pressure on the mound because as you go further and further and further, you are going to have a little bit more pressure.”

Her teammates made sure they eased her nerves after the Comets pulled with one in the third.

In the bottom of the third, singles by Unkle and Becky Merson and a two-out walk to Gordon was followed by Colton getting hit by the pitch with the bases loaded for a 6-4 lead.

Howard extended the lead in the bottom of the fifth with three runs.

Singles by Mary Wagenblast and Gordon and a walk to Colton loaded the bases with no outs.

Eakes stroked a run-scoring single for the first run and the Lions catcher certainly made an impression on Catonsville coach McCleary.

“Their catcher, Paige Eakes, is a seriously good player,” McCleary said. “We didn’t steal on her because we don’t have a lot of speed, but she is very, very good. She’s hard to get out and she can hit the ball anywhere.”

Unkle plated the second run in the inning when she walked with the bases loaded.

She has also left a mark on McCleary, who coaches for the Catonsville Chaos club team in the summer.

“That kid has killed me for the last 10 years,” he chuckled. “In travel ball and everything, and she’s a really nice kid.”

Merson’s run-scoring single plated the final run of the fifth.

The Comets got one run back in the sixth after back-to-back singles by Kreis (2-for-3) and All-County first team outfielder Truesdale and an RBI single by All-County second team selection DiDomenico.

Howard’s 14th and final hit by Wagenblast led to the final run, when she scored on a sacrifice fly by Colton.

“We couldn’t make some crucial plays, I thought there were some plays in the infield that were plays you’ve got to make,” said McCleary, who is optimistic with all but Beautz returning next year. “The kids we called up, they all can play. Believe it or not there are other kids down there who can challenge for a spot next year and we’ve got some coming in next year and I believe it’s going to be really, really good.”

Howard advances to the regional finals and they will play the winner of Monday’s Urbana-Montgomery Blair game in the regional finals.

Unkle was just happy they got the sectional final game in after three washouts.

“We thought we were going to be a little rusty coming in, so we were expecting a couple of errors, but we played fairly well and I am really proud of our team for that,” Unkle said.

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