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Bottom of the order lifts Howard baseball past Marriotts Ridge

On paper, Wednesday’s matchup between Howard and visiting Marriotts Ridge was expected to be a pitchers’ duel. The Lions had their ace, reigning Howard County Pitcher of the Year senior Gabe Delgado, while the Mustangs featured theirs, senior Josh “Buck” Olsufka, last year’s Howard County Player of the Year. Both had sub-2.00 ERAs last spring, so runs were expected to at a minimum.

But this is high school baseball. Things rarely go according to plan. Instead, each team put up crooked numbers in multiple innings, chased the starters early and combined to score 15 runs in the Lions’ 9-6 victory.

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Howard got to Olsufka for two runs in the second inning on Delgado’s first career high school home run — a two-run opposite field shot — and then scored five more in the third inning as six consecutive batters reached base with two outs against Olsufka to build a 7-2 lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

“We just had a bunch of good at-bats there,” Lions coach Nick Hoffner said of the big third inning. “We had a couple bloop hits that fell in and were able to put a few hits together and get a lot of contributions from one-through-nine in the order. That’s what we’re going to count on; we can’t just rely on one or two guys to get it done.”

The bottom of the order did the majority of the damage for Howard (5-1 Howard County, 6-1 overall). Jerras Murray (2-for-3, 2 RBI, 2 R), Delgado (2-for-3, 3 RBI, 2 R) and Aidan O’Connor (1-for-3, 2 RBI) combined to go 5-for-12 with seven RBIs and four runs in the 6-7-8 spots in the lineup, while leadoff hitter Alex Campbell went 2-for-2 and Brian Jakubek scored a pair of runs batting cleanup.

Olsufka didn’t make it out of the third inning and allowed five hits, six runs (two earned), three walks and struck out four across 2.2 innings. The Mustangs’ bullpen also got tagged for two runs.

Hoffner wasn’t coy about his team’s lineup. Their pitching has received the majority of the praise so far this spring but he believes it’s the most complete lineup he’s had over the last two-plus seasons that has seen the Lions reach the 4A state championship game twice. Through seven games, they’re averaging 8.4 runs, which leads the league.

“I do believe that, and a couple guys haven’t even gotten going yet,” Hoffner said. “Once they get going I think we could be an even better offensive team.”

On the mound, Delgado wasn’t brilliant, either. He needed 65 pitches to get through two innings and allowed two runs in the third as Marriotts Ridge (4-2, 5-2) briefly tied the score at two. He exited after four innings and gave up three hits, three walks and two runs (one earned), and said afterward that he got behind too many hitters.

“Fortunately I was able to get some outs behind in the count and mixed up my pitches,” said Delgado, who earned the win. “It was good for me.”

The Mustangs’ defense committed four errors in the game and each proved costly. After Kulick walked and Jakubek singled with two outs, an error loaded the bases for Murray. A swinging bunt scored one run, Delgado hit an infield single and O’Connor followed with an opposite-field single to score two more. The fifth run scored when O’Connor got in a rundown but managed to stay alive long enough for the runner to score from third.

“I’m not sure if that was a baseball game or a soccer game today,” Marriotts Ridge coach Paul Eckert said in reference to the errors. “It’s sunny and the wind was blowing a little bit. There are no tough conditions. This is baseball and all 18 of us had to play on the same field with the same conditions. That’s an excuses and I don’t want to make excuses.”

The Mustangs’ offense came alive in the sixth inning when Tyler Vandenberge (1-for-3, R, RBI) doubled, TJ Delmonte (1-for-2, 2 BB) walked, Justin Woodbury bunted for a hit and pinch hitter Aleksie Guzman mashed a two-run single to center that cleared the bases on a fielding error. Nick Dinoto (1-for-3, RBI) followed with a sacrifice fly to cut the deficit to 8-6.

They had the go-ahead run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh but Ira Snell struck out with the bases loaded to end the game.

“That we scored six runs against a very good ball club, that’s encouraging,” Ecker said. “That we came back and had the lead run at the plate, that was good. Tyler Vandenberge came in and held them down and gave us a chance to win. That was outstanding. He was a bulldog. ... We need more bulldogs.”

Howard (5-1 county, 6-1 overall) — 9, Marriotts Ridge (4-2, 5-2) — 6

........... 123 456 7 R-H-E

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MR ... 002 004 0 6-8-4

Ho .... 025 011 x 9-8-3

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