Howard shortstop Kayla Devin talks about the Lions' hitting against Glenelg Saturday, April 25. (Brent Kennedy, Baltimore Sun Media Group)
Having hit the ball hard for the first five innings with little to show for it against Glenelg on Saturday, Howard coach Chuck Rice kept telling his girls to stay the course.
Some strong defensive plays by the Gladiators and some base-running miscues had cost the Lions, but Rice sensed that a breakout inning was coming.
Sure enough, in the top of the sixth, Howard (11-2, 13-3) finally strung things together. On the strength of six straight hits, including the first varsity home run for Kayla Devin that drove in three, the Lions exploded for four runs to retake the lead and provide the decisive blow in a 6-5 victory on the road.
"It was frustrating early … we ran ourselves out of a couple innings by just not playing heads up softball. But, at the same time, we were hitting the ball really hard and that was a great sign," Rice said. "This team is very resilient when it comes to their hits. They don't get frustrated and we kept saying that if we keep hitting the ball like we were, the runs were going to come."
Howard had racked up 10 hits prior to the fifth inning, yet only had two runs to show for it — an RBI double by Devin in the second and a steal of home by Brittany Bryson (double) in the fourth. However, in the sixth, Steph Yarrish (3-4) and Katie Unkle kick-started things with back-to-back singles.
That brought Devin to the plate and she rocketed a ball over the fence in left to tie the game at 5-5. Three straight singles after that by Jamie Bahrijczuk, Shanya Gordon and Shannon Wiley then gave the Lions back the lead.
"It was just all of our time to hit," Devin said. "We had been making really solid contact and a lot of them had been getting caught or good plays … and we had some kind of sketchy base running. But that inning we kind of pulled it all together to make sure that we got those runs back and we did. I couldn't be more proud of my team."
Glenelg (8-4, 10-5), which pounded out 11 hits of its own on the day, had been in control most of the afternoon. After Howard briefly grabbed the lead in the top of the second, the Gladiators came back in the bottom of inning and scored four times to pull ahead.
Katie Dustin (2-3) started the rally with a single to right and Breanne Smith followed with a walk. Harly Fitterer then drove in Dustin with a RBI single and Sharon Mielke drove in Smith with another RBI single.
After Allison Wilcox (2-4) singled to load the bases, Toni Pritchard (2-4) delivered the biggest blow of the inning with a 2-RBI hit to left. Just like that it was 4-1 in favor of the Gladiators.
Howard changed pitchers in the third, bringing in Bahrijczuk to relieve Ally Wieman. The move paid off in more ways than one.
Bahrijczuk immediately started to limit Glenelg's offensive production by pounding the strike zone and also delivered at the plate to the tune of going 3-3 with a double.
"Jamie started hitting the ball probably two games ago and she's really starting to find her confidence. There were times earlier this year where we would consider pinch-hitting for her, but not any more," Rice said. "And she pitched excellent. She came in and hit her spots and really slowed them down."
The only run that Bahrijczuk allowed in her four innings of work was a two-out home run by Wilcox in the fourth inning that made the score 5-2 in favor of Glenelg at the time.
Other than that, she produced a pair of 1-2-3 innings. The biggest of the two efficient innings came in the seventh, with Howard nursing a one-run lead. She got a pair of groundouts and then closed the game with a strikeout.
"We caught up with their first pitcher and were really hitting well, but after the pitching change we weren't having those same productive at bats," Pritchard said. "We weren't working as deep in the count and we lost our beginning-of-the-game mindset."
For Howard, the victory marked the second straight game that the team had pulled away late for a win against a top-half team. The Lions had scored six times in the fifth inning on Friday to beat Reservoir, 8-4.
Rice says that his team, which features only three seniors, is growing up quickly.
"They understand what it is now to be in pressure games, so hopefully this will lead us down the road as we get into the state playoffs," Rice said.
On the other side, Glenelg dropped a game for a second time in less than a week. But Pritchard says she feels like the team is incredibly close to getting over the hump.
"We hit well today, but we obviously still didn't hit well enough and we know that there are still mistakes that we have to improve upon," Pritchard said. "We know we are fully capable, all these girls are, we just have to capitalize a little more.
"I think that as these games progress, we are going to be a threat and I'm excited for the playoffs."