Hammond junior Mackenzie Brooks talks about the Golden Bears' 14-1 victory over Centennial on March 26, 2019.
A Hammond team known for its hitting took the opportunity on Tuesday afternoon against Centennial to showcase just how far it has come out in the field.
The Golden Bears got a shutdown performance from Brittany Brewer in the pitching circle and highlight defensive plays from both its infield and outfield, limiting the Eagles on the scoreboard until the team’s bats heated up in the later innings en route to a convincing 14-1 victory.
After ranking among the bottom five county teams last year in terms of runs against (8.5 a game), Hammond (2-0, 2-1) has held its first two county opponents this spring to four runs or less.
“We came into this season thinking we are going to live and die by the offense, but at the same time I think the make up of this team is very different and we are going to surprise some people with what we can do defensively,” said Hammond first-year coach Russell Kovach. “I’m not going to say we are going to be one of the top defensive teams in the state, but I think we are very solid. Particularly our infield defense, which has been boosted by some very strong freshmen.”
Hammond scored twice in the top of the first against Centennial (0-2, 0-3), getting RBI from Taylor Liguori and Mackenzie Brooks (4-5, 6 RBI). And, while the Golden Bears’ offense failed to score again over the next three innings, the team’s defense made sure the lead stood up.
Each of the team’s infielders took turns making key put outs, with Liguori and freshman Kasey Smith in particular shining on the left side at shortstop and third base, respectively. Smith made a diving catch down the line in the third inning to halt a potential rally.
Overall, Brewer allowed just three hits and a single run — courtesy of a RBI double by Centennial’s Esther Kim in the second inning.
It was in the top of the fifth, with the score sitting at 2-1 in favor of Hammond, that the Golden Bears began to break things open.
With Abbie Weirich (2-3, triple, 2 walks and 4 runs) and Liguori on base, Brooks came up and laced a triple into the left-centerfield gap. When the ball was overthrown, she raced home to increase the lead to four, 5-1.
“To be honest, when I get up there, I don’t think at all because … I tend to overthink too much,” said Brooks, who had hits in each of her first four at bats. “When I got up there with two outs … I saw the ball, wanted to make a connection and just kept with it.”
Things really got away from Centennial in the top of the seventh inning, as Hammond sent 13 batters to the plate and pounded out nine hits and scored nine runs against Centennial pitcher Jordan Hinz.
In the early stages of the game, Hinz was dominant at times with eight strikeouts through the first five frames. But a couple miscues in the field and some adjustments by the Hammond batters changed the narrative in the latter stages.
“I do think that they made adjustments and the difference between them at the plate and us at the plate was very evident late in the game — they had confidence and were looking for their pitches,” Centennial coach Katie Grimm said. “They fouled off what they didn’t want and drove the pitches that they did. For us, it was kind of the same story as it has been in each game this season so far … we are playing great and then one missed play or missed opportunity kind of sets us off and it’s all downhill from there.”
Kovach said that for his girls, momentum at the plate played a huge role. At one point in the seventh inning, the Golden Bears had five straight hits and later Brewer (3-5) and Abbie Weirich ripped back-to-back triples.
“I thought their pitcher had a great change-up and a nice little drop, but our batters adjusted in the box a little differently with their setup and we were able to catch up to it,” Kovach said. “And once we timed things up, you saw what happened … bang, bang, bang. It was wonderful to see everyone string those hits together.”