Late in softball games, simple defensive plays become harder.
The pressure is higher. The crowd is louder. The baserunners sprint faster.
In crunch time on Tuesday, however, River Hill’s defense remained calm en route to an 8-5 win over Marriotts Ridge in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Class 2A South region quarterfinals.
“They looked really good making the plays out there,” said River Hill head coach Marni Rosenbaum. “I think they did a great job as far as communicating.”
With the bases loaded and one out in the top of the seventh inning, the Hawks were ahead of the Mustangs 8-5. Freshman pitcher Ella Wood got a Mustang to pop up to the second baseman in shallow right field.
Marriotts Ridge’s Madi Costigan faked tagging up from third to force a throw home, which could have started a chaotic sequence for the Hawks, if not for River Hill catcher Ever Sheplee and first baseman Quinn Kindbom.
The runner on first then started running to second before retreating back to first, which drew a throw from Sheplee to first base. Costigan then ran home, and without hesitation, Kindbom caught the throw and fired it right back to Sheplee for the final out of the game.
“Ever, as a sophomore, has really stepped up behind the plate this year,” Rosenbaum said. “Being able to make that tag on the play home was excellent.”
Senior third baseman Delanie Vintz, who went 2-for-3 with a home run, a double, three RBIs and a walk, said the impressive defense in the seventh inning was an example of the Hawks’ “skill and chemistry.”
“That was huge,” said senior third baseman Delanie Vintz. “Our team has had a lot of bang-bang plays like that. You can practice all you want, but you can’t prepare for situations like that. Those show how much we click as a team.”
Marriotts Ridge (13-9) drew first blood with a solo home run by Molly Nies in the top of the first. River Hill (14-4) bounced back with an Allie Wilson RBI single.
The Hawks then scored five runs in the second inning, knocking out Marriotts Ridge starting pitcher Megan Hughes. The runs scored via an error on a bunt, a passed ball, a double by Vintz, an error after Vintz’s double and a single by Sara Emig.
Both teams scored two runs in the third inning. Marriotts Ridge got an RBI single from Nies and an RBI double from Grace Tolle, who went 3-for-3 with two doubles, two RBIs and a walk.
Vintz responded in the bottom frame with a two-run home run to put the Hawks up 8-3.
“She can drive the ball, especially if you come over the middle,” said Marriotts Ridge head coach Renard Parson. “The last time we faced them we were able to get the calls on the black and change things up, and today we weren’t able to do that.”
Wood and Marriotts Ridge reliever Alex Lindahl then combined to retire 15 straight batters in the middle innings.
“[Lindahl] hit her spots,” said Parson. “She had the batters off balance, and our defense made some plays.”
The Mustangs scored one run in the sixth, an RBI groundout by Bridget Farrell, before entering the seventh down four runs. Wood then walked the bases loaded in the final inning. Tolle singled home a run with one out to make the score 8-5 before the game-ending double play.
Rosenbaum said she was proud of how Wood, who earned the win with 5 innings of relief after Brooke Gettier started and threw the first two innings, pitched at the end of the game. Wood allowed four runs (three earned) and struck out one.
“We told [Wood] that we have all the faith in the world in her, and we have the defense to back it up,” Rosenbaum said. “The experience that a lot of these girls come in with travel ball helps. She knows she’s going to have a defense that will be out there to back her up.”
Parson said his three seniors — Nies, Samantha Miller and Olivia Buchwald — will be “missed.”
“They’re all great,” Parson said. “They really did well this year. They served great as team leaders. When we were successful offensively they were right in the middle of things.”
The Hawks will play Glenelg, which upset Section I South region No. 1 seed Hammond in the quarterfinals, on Wednesday. River Hill swept Glenelg in the regular season, beating the Gladiators 17-2 and 4-3. First pitch at River Hill is set for 4 p.m.
The Gladiators scored twice in the top of the eighth inning to help knock off the top-seeded Golden Bears on the road. Glenelg, which lost to Hammond by a score of 16-7 in the two team’s lone regular season meeting, never trailed this time around after scoring three times in the top of the second inning and another two times in the fourth to establish a 5-0 cushion.
Hammond, which got 2 RBI apiece from Brittany Brewer and Armonie Lane, battled back to tie the score at five with a run in the bottom of the fourth inning and four more in the sixth. Then, in extra innings, the Golden Bears plated a run in the bottom of the eighth but were unable to get a second in to extend the game.
Jordyn Woodling led the way for Glenelg offensively with four hits. Lily Dustin and Sage Huber also each had multiple hits, while Kathryn Hoffman finished with a game-high 3 RBI.
The Gladiators advance to face River Hill on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
The Eagles came back from a four-run deficit early on to force extra innings and then prevailed when Jordan Hinz (2-5, 3 RBI) drove in Sarah Phelps with a ground ball in the bottom of the eighth.
Centennial scored two in the second on a 2-RBI double from Grace Bennett, before Long Reach answered with six in the top of the third. Each of the top six batters in the Lightning lineup reached base in that inning and came around to score.
But the Eagles kept fighting back little by little and eventually tied the score with RBI hits from Hinz and Erin McGuire (2-4) in the sixth.
“We knew that if we played for one run an inning, we could get back in the game and win,” Centennial coach Katie Grimm said.
Hinz settled in at pitcher as the game went on, finishing with five scoreless innings to close things out and she ended up with seven strikeouts.
Both defenses were led by their shortstops. Lauren Marcotte had five assists for Centennial and Sierra Sims had seven assists for the Lightning. Marcotte also added a 2-3 day at the plate.