Following his team's 9-1 win at Centennial on Monday afternoon, Long Reach senior shortstop Josh Kulina performed a standing backflip in front of his teammates.
"(Kulina) is our engine that gets us going, so that makes me cringe. He's done that a couple of times, but I don't know what the special occasion was today," Long Reach coach Mike Repsher joked.
Such an enthusiastic stunt may have seemed out of place for a 5-6 team one month into the season, but after struggling through more than a decade of futility, the Lightning are eager to celebrate any chance they get.
After the win at Centennial on Monday, Long Reach is within one game of .500 at 5-6 in conference play. Following a winless campaign in 2011, the Lightning have seen steady improvement, building to four wins in 2014, then breaking out with a 7-10 league record last spring. Repsher expects this year's team to be the most competitive the program has fielded in more than a decade, and judging by Monday's performance, they are well on their way.
"We have confidence that we can go out there and beat anybody, and I'm sure the sentiment is the same throughout the county depending on who is on the bump that day and what kind of timely hitting you get," Repsher said. "We're just focusing on our end and playing solid defense and hoping these guys come along ... winning is really important in terms of confidence."
The Lightning got a big confidence boost by beating former first place team Glenelg last week, 9-4.
"We've been getting in scoring position almost every game, but just not getting the big hit. In that game we finally got the big hit and cracked it open," Repsher said.
On Monday, there were several big hits, and a dominant pitching performance from junior Sam Lobdell, who went the distance allowing only one run on five hits and a walk.
"It was just a team win. I was just throwing strikes and getting the fielders involved. They stayed in it and started hitting," said Lobdell, who also had a base hit in Long Reach's five-run fifth. "In the seventh inning my arm felt a little tired, but I was ready to go ... there's a lot more confidence and we're playing a lot more loose."
Sophomore Tavares Turner and freshman Jeremy Huffman both hit RBI doubles for the Lightning in the fifth inning, while AJ Gilbert and John Shupe each drove in runs on singles.
Long Reach will now try to carry its momentum into Wednesday against first place Howard, while Centennial — which won four out of five in early April — attempts to pull out of a four-game slide at first place Rver Hill.
"We're having problems finishing ... we're just learning how to play on the varsity level," Centennial coach Denis Ahearn said. "The county is about as tight as I've ever seen it. On any day you don't know who could beat who."
Sophomore Alex Crocamo collected a pair of hits for the Eagles in the loss, and Jake Watson doubled.
LR (5-6) 021 051 0 - 9 7 1
C (4-7) 010 000 0 - 0 5 3
With their wins on Monday, Howard and River Hill kept pace with each other in the battle for the top spot in the county standings. The Hawks will visit the Lions on Friday in a game that should leave one team in the driver's seat for the county championship.
Howard 4, Atholton 2
Casey Crawford pitched six strong and drove in two runs on two hits to lead the Lions to victory. JR Faulkner struck out the side in the seventh to close it out. Cameron Robinson tripled, and Ryan Vale added a pair of hits. Blake James and sophomore Jack Lawrence each tripled for the Raiders, and James struck out six in a complete game effort. Atholton freshman catcher Zack Snow caught both baserunners that attempted to steal.
Marriotts Ridge 13, Oakland Mills 0
The Mustangs won their third straight with their second shutout of the season. During the winning streak, they have outscored their opposition, 32-2.
Mt. Hebron 6, Hammond 4
The defending county champs won their second straight after a small two-game slide to keep pace with three other teams in a tie for third place.
Reservoir 2, Glenelg 1
The Gators have now won three in a row, holding opponents to only three runs combined in the last 27 innings, to pull into a tie for third place in the standings.
River Hill 13, Wilde Lake 0
Ian Sterling drove in four runs on two hits to lead the Hawks to their fifth straight win. During the winnin streak, they have outscored their opponents, 36-8. Robby Windsor and Danny Selby combined on a five-inning, two-hit shutout, striking out six.
Glenelg Country 17, Friends 10 (MIAA B)
After winning their fifth straight to pull into second place in the B Conference standings, the Dragons host first place Boys Latin on Tuesday with a chance for redemption. Boys Latin beat Glenelg Country on April 6, and the Dragons haven't lost since then.
Chapelgate 17, St. Frances 7 (MIAA C)
The Yellowjackets came alive after three straight losses in which they allowed a combined 34 runs.
Hammond 1, Centennial 0
The Golden Bears shut down the Eagles for their second shutout of the season.
Howard 11, Wilde Lake 0
Connor Williams struck out eight in a five-inning, three-hit shutout. Jared Mouton doubled for Wilde Lake in the loss.
Marriotts Ridge 2, Glenelg 1
Gunnar Barnard pitched six shutout innings, allowing only two hits, before turning the ball over to the bullpen in the seventh. Glenelg had runners on first and third and one run in with two outs in the seventh, but a grounder to third ended the game.
Mt. Hebron 4, Long Reach 3
Reservoir 6, Oakland Mills 1
River Hill 5, Atholton 2
Derek Gold pitched six strong innings and drove in two runs on two hits to lead the Hawks to victory. Kieran Garner struck out the side in a perfect seventh to earn the save. Freshman Zach Snow led the Raiders with a double and a single.
Glenelg Country 5, St. John's Catholic 2 (MIAA B)
Concordia 11, Chapelgate 1 (MIAA C)
River Hill, 9-2
Marriotts Ridge, 7-4
Mt. Hebron, 7-4
Long Reach, 5-6
Oakland Mills, 2-9
Wilde Lake, 0-11
Glenelg Country, 6-3 (MIAA B)
Chapelgate, 5-4 (MIAA C)
Centennial at River Hill
Howard County Times: Top stories
Hammond at Marriotts Ridge
Howard at Long Reach
Oakland Mills at Glenelg
Reservoir at Atholton
Wilde Lake at Mt. Hebron
St. John's Catholic at Chapelgate (MIAA C)
Boys Latin at Glenelg Country (MIAA B, Tuesday, April 26)