The final outs of the Marriotts Ridge baseball and softball victories over Hammond on May 4 that secured each at least a share of a county championship.
After a rollercoaster regular season filled with wild swings of momentum, Marriotts Ridge's baseball and softball teams found themselves in very similar positions at Hammond on Friday afternoon.
Following victories by both teams that secured each at least a share of their respective county championship this spring, there were plenty of smiles and celebratory hugs.
Marriotts Ridge baseball cruised to a five-inning 10-0 win over Hammond to secure the program its second straight county title, while the Mustangs' softball team held off a Golden Bears' rally for an 8-5 victory that locks up no worse than a share of the program's second straight county championship.
Marriotts Ridge softball (14-2 county, 14-3 overall) has one county game left against Mt. Hebron on May 8, where a win would secure sole possession of the title. Marriotts Ridge baseball (14-3, 15-3) has concluded its regular season.
On the heels of a loss against Howard and close calls against Mt. Hebron and Wilde Lake earlier in the week, Marriotts Ridge coach Paul Eckert knew the importance of not overlooking a Hammond team that came in to Friday with just one county win.
And sure enough, after going down in order in the top of the first, the Mustangs bats heated up in the second and never cooled down from there. A three-run home run by TJ Delmonte over the fence in right center in that second inning was the breakthrough hit that got things going.
"The guys were definitely aware of the situation coming into today and that may very well have had something to do with us being a little overanxious in that first inning, swinging at some pitches we shouldn't have," Eckert said. "But they preserved, they pulled through and I'm very happy for them."
After a couple of sacrifice fly outs in the third and fourth innings pushed the lead to 5-0, Buck Olsufka and Hunter Reeling each added home runs to officially put the game out of reach in the fourth and fifth.
On the mound, Delmonte pitched the full five innings and recorded the shutout.
During the game, Eckert said that the team was getting updates from match-up across town between Howard and Reservoir — which Reservoir went on to win to help Marriotts Ridge in its county title quest. But in the end, he added, it was up to the Mustangs to handle their own business.
"In the end, there was only one thing that we could control and that's what goes on between the white lines here on this field," Eckert said. "What happens over there [between Howard and Reservoir], and what happens with the powers that be over at the board of education in terms of tiebreakers and what not, we have no control over that. For anything else to matter, we had to win today."
As for winning a county title for a second straight season, Eckert encouraged his kids afterward to enjoy every bit of it.
"It takes a certain amount of resiliency to win one of these and it's something that I hope the kids are able to step back and appreciate," he said. "I do think having had a taste of it last year, they knew what they were going after and they wanted that feeling again pretty badly."
For every push that host Hammond made on its senior day, Marriotts Ridge delivered a comparable answer. And in the end, following a fly out to left field for the final out in the bottom of the seventh inning, that poise under pressure helped the Mustangs make program history.
Led by seniors Mikayla Barnard (11 strikeouts in seven innings pitched) and Romy Lindahl (2-3, 3 runs scored), Marriotts Ridge started fast and then finished strong to beat the Golden Bears 8-5. With the win, regardless of the outcome against Mt. Hebron next week, the Mustangs will be at least co-county champions.
"This has been awesome to watch and I've been coaching here for a little over 10 years, I took a little bit of a hiatus in there, but it's a whole different culture and atmosphere around the team. Our two seniors really drive that," said Marriotts Ridge coach Renard Parson, who is back leading the varsity team this spring after spending the last several years coaching the JV team. "[Mikayla] and Romy, they set the precedent for all the other younger players to watch. And it goes all the way down to the JV team, with their success. This is something that has been building, so to get that first one is awesome. The hope is that this is just the beginning."
Marriotts Ridge set the tone early on with two runs in each of the first two innings to open up a 4-0 lead. Molly Nies had the big hit in the first inning with an RBI double, while Madi Costigan followed suit with her own RBI double in the second.
Hammond (8-9, 9-9) finally plated its first run in the bottom of the third, with Taylor Liguori lacing an RBI triple down the line in left. Then the Golden Bears really made things interesting in the bottom of the fifth, plating three more runs to trim the Marriotts Ridge lead down to one.
But just as it appeared that Hammond had grabbed all the momentum, the Mustangs answered right back with two runs of their own in the top of the sixth to go back ahead by three. It was in that inning that Nies picked up her second RBI hit of the game.
Later, after Hammond had closed within two in the bottom of the sixth, Marriotts Ridge responded again with a run in the top of the seventh to keep the Golden Bears at arm's length. Then Barnard officially closed the door on the victory with a 1-2-3 seventh.
"That's the sign of a great team, not panicking at any point. Even when Hammond — which really played hard today — scored those runs, I had confidence we were going to come right back and put up some runs of our own," Parson said. "We have a great approach and that confidence never waivers. Our ability to not crumble under pressure, that's ultimately what has helped us win games."
After losing a 4-1 game against Reservoir on April 23, Marriotts Ridge has rebounded to win four straight to retake control of the county championship race.