When Patterson Mill entered the Upper Bay Chesapeake Athletic Conference this spring with one senior and three juniors, coach Jeff Horton had hoped, at the very least, they’d be able to hold their own against teams like C. Milton Wright.
Nearly blowing out that kind of team was beyond his imagination. As of Tuesday, it was reality.
The No. 12 Huskies piled on the No. 9 Mustangs early and often, building a significant enough lead to survive a late rally and upset CMW 11-8.
“We were almost entering the season happy to be here. With our goals set, hey, if we can finish middle of the pack. We didn’t want to embarrass ourselves,” Horton said. “And now, after the first third of the season’s over, we’ve not just held our own but proven we deserve to be here as a team.”
A game-plan to put the Mustangs (4-2) on the fritz had been designed around sophomore pitcher Dakota Pitts, who carried it out to the tee.
Pitts tossed four strikeouts and surrendered just three runs through six innings before getting into a bit of a seventh-inning jam in which she allowed CMW to score five runs, two off of a home run.
Regardless, the sophomore suppressed some of the Mustangs’ liveliest sluggers – leadoff hitter Meghan Reed, for instance, batted just 2 for 4, second baseman Skylar Little 1 for 4.
Horton banked on the assumption the Mustangs would have gotten too used to the heat Bo Manor had thrown at them on Monday.
“We knew in order to keep them off balance, we were going to have to use some off-speed pitches and some movement pitches instead of just coming right at them. They just faced a high-speed pitcher yesterday,” the coach said.
“Our game-plan to keep their hitters in check was to keep the ball moving, keep the ball slow and low and keep changing speeds throughout the course of the game.”
Pitts succeeded in that plan, luring the top of the order into three outs to open the game.
Once in the batter’s box, the Huskies (7-1) opted for an opposite approach. Even as Miranda Baldham slipped her first of seven strikeouts to the second batter, she walked two, setting up freshman Madison Knight to drive in the first run.
Patterson Mill wasn’t finished. As junior Mackenzie Horton walked, the ball rolled past catcher Lexi Childress’ glove, giving Pitts (2 for 3) plenty of time to score.
As that happened, Horton dashed to second base. Baldham turned and fired at the runner, missing the other runner stealing behind her – Knight, who slid home. Then, freshman Tara Caprinolo reached third on an error, shipping Horton across the plate.
“She’s still learning a few things. Don’t get behind the count. Hitting her spots,” Mustangs coach Jim French said of Baldham. “She struggles with that some times. She had five walks today. Four of those walks were converted into runs. I’m not saying it was her fault. It’s part of the game. But it’s part of the game we have to learn from.”
Though first baseman Lauren Meyers (4 for 4) scored on an RBI single from center fielder Emili Rutkowski’s bat, the Mustangs had another frustrating half-inning yet to endure. On two outs, CMW gave up another run. Pitts’ single scored Allie Cichocki, who was only on base to begin with because of an error.
“They’re like little ankle-biters,” French said of the Huskies. “They just hang around and wait for the opportunity. They took advantage of what we offered them. They deserved to win today, to be honest.”
The third inning provided yet more grief to CMW, as both Cichocki and Adriana Brown sent runs home on various throwing errors, upping the score to 8-1.
The Huskies had schemed to pack up early in the bottom of the fifth. Sophomore Caroline Michaels started it off by taking a full-count walk; Brown furthered it by socking an RBI single, as did Pitts, with a run-scoring double of her own.
All Patterson Mill needed was one more run. Knight singled to put that run just feet away.
Instead, Knight was caught stealing, ending the inning – and opening up the chance for a rally.
“Missed our base running cue,” Jeff Horton said. “We wanted to have [Knight] get into a run-down situation so that run would’ve scored.”
Once again, Rutkowksi followed through, plating Gabby Miller and Meyers. That, though, was nothing compared to the seventh.
Reed stroked a ground ball that bit Pitts’ foot; Miller drove her home with a two-base hit. Then, Meyers clobbered a double of her own for two runs.
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They were the appetizers before the main course – Childress stepped to the plate and on the fourth pitch Pitts fed her, she cracked it over the left-side fence for her first varsity home run.
“I’m on the verge of tears,” one of the Mustangs said in the dugout when Childress returned.
“By far, this is her best year. She’s doing so well. She calls a good game. She keeps things under control back there,” French said. “She’s batting close to about .400 right now. I’m very proud of her.”
With her margin whittled down from eight runs to three and only one out posted, Pitts couldn’t allow herself to spiral out. She faced the next two – the final two – batters.
“I just had to stay within myself and push through,” Pitts said, “no matter what happened.”
With a little over half of April and May to deal with now, Horton looks to Tuesday as a Huskies standard going forward.
“Today was a complete team win. Our defense was good, our pitching was dynamite, our hitting, our timing of the base-running – it was a complete team win today,” he said. “That’s what impresses me with such young talent.”