HOWARD COUNTY, MD — Marriotts Ridge senior Mikayla Barnard had to rediscover her love for the game before she became the best two-way player in Howard County this spring.
The Mustangs’ ace and middle-of-the-order hitter had been playing softball since she was 7 years old and developed life-long friendships and traveled to places she wouldn’t have gone otherwise along the way. But there were some dark moments too, like the three concussions she suffered in seventh and eighth grade and freshman year, which made her question if this was truly what she wanted to be doing heading into her final high school season.
“I just got bored of it. I don’t know,” Barnard recalled. “I had three concussions, so I kind of was just like tired and done.”
Barnard considered what her life would be like without the game. She asked herself: “What am I going to? What am I going to do with all this free time? What am I going to do without all my friends that I’ve made through softball?”
The deeper she thought, the more she realized that this wasn’t how her softball story was going to end. She needed the game, and the Marriotts Ridge softball team needed her in order to accomplish the lofty goals it believed were possible.
“I realized I couldn’t be done; this is the love of my life,” Barnard said. “I had, like, an epiphany, I guess you could say, my junior year going into my senior year. It was like something just clicked and a fire was relit.
“It was completely different. It was like a whole new world. I finally opened up my horizons and just started playing without any care in the world. That’s what I should’ve been doing but it just finally hit me.”
With her renewed energy, Barnard, the 2018 Howard County Times/Columbia Flier softball Player of the Year, took off. She was dominant this spring, going 11-1 with a 2.47 ERA and 100 strikeouts (most in the league) in 71 innings pitched against the county’s best teams in the regular season while also tallying 27 hits and batting .466.
The Mustangs’ success followed. They just missed winning their first county title last year, when Barnard went 5-3 with a 2.71 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 49 innings and was a first-team All-County pitcher, but they got the job done this spring and went 15-2 in county play to win their first county championship. Overall, Marriotts Ridge finished 17-4 and reached the 2A South regional championship, where it lost to eventual state champions La Plata, 5-0.
“Mikayla had a great season. You can’t win the county with one player but she was phenomenal,” Parson said. “She had a ton of strikeouts, she had more time in the circle this year, and she did great offensively even though she pitched the lion’s share of our games. She helped us win the county, that’s for sure.”
The championship beliefs surrounding the program started before the season, and much of that had to do with Barnard and her leadership on and off the field. As one of two seniors on the team, she knew heading into the season that she would be relied on as a leader of a young but supremely talented team.
It was a new situation for Barnard, who recalled how important the senior leadership was when she was an underclassman on varsity, but Parson said she was “really a great leader, vocally and the way she led on the field. She embraced that role.”
“I knew I was going to have to push everyone because this was so much of a younger team than I had in my last three years,” said Barnard, who will play collegiately at Morgan State. “Usually it was just me and Romy [Lindahl] being the youngest and we had, like, juniors and seniors, but this year we only had two seniors and a handful of juniors, so I knew I was going to have to keep pushing everyone and make sure everyone kept their heads in the game.”
On the field, her leadership was on display by way of dominating in the pitching circle and doing her part offensively. Despite walking four and hitting four more in the season opener against Glenelg, she struck out eight and allowed just three hits and three earned runs in five innings in a victory. She punched out seven Reservoir batters and allowed five hits and four earned runs over seven innings in a 9-4 win on April 5, one day after the Mustangs lost a nine-inning heartbreaker to Howard.
Barnard and Parson admitted that victory over the Gators changed their season. The defeat to the Lions could have unraveled their campaign, but Barnard toeing the rubber the next day and shutting down a then-undefeated Reservoir team put Marriotts Ridge back on track.
“We all were just hitting, and when we’re all hitting nothing could stop us,” said Barnard, who allowed all four runs in the first two innings before shutting the Gators down over the last five. “We had 11 hits that day and we were on fire, and that’s when I knew we could win the county.”
Her masterpiece performances continued. Barnard threw a one-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts against Centennial on April 19, and she threw 59 of her 78 pitches for strikes. Knowing a win would clinch at least a share of the county championship, Barnard punched out 11 batters over seven innings in an 8-5 victory over Hammond late in the regular season.
She also had her moments with the bat. In the bottom of the seventh and the game tied at six against Glenelg in the 2A South region semifinal, Barnard led off the frame with a triple and scored one pitch later on a wild pitch to walk it off.
“I was just thinking, ‘be a leader, be a leader.’ When I hit that triple and then scored on the passed ball, I was so ecstatic,” Barnard said. “I just kept thinking that you don’t have to do it on your own but let’s get it started, get a rally going.”
Said Parson: “She’s the type of kid that wants to make the play. She’s got that type of attitude. ... She wants to make a difference on the field.”
Also named to the first team:
Samantha Hobert, Howard, freshman.
After losing 2017 Howard County Player of the Year Ally Wieman to graduation, there were major questions about who would lead the Lions pitching staff this season. In came Hobert, who not only pitched the majority of the innings for Howard but did so in dominating fashion.
“Samantha grew up on the mound this season,” Lions coach Chuck Rice said. “She came into the season as a true freshman, had average speed and two good pitches. ... Samantha pitched in all of our pressure games.”
Hobert pitched all nine innings in a 9-5 victory over Marriotts Ridge in early April, and four days later she threw all 11 innings in a one-run defeat to Reservoir. She pitched her best game in the 4A North regional championship game, a one-hit shutout in a 2-0 win over Blair. She finished county play 6-3 with 49 strikeouts and a 1.96 ERA over 64.1 innings.
“As the season went on she learned how to deal with pressure in tight situations,” Rice said. “I believe she will be a force to reckon with in the next few years.”
Amy Stetser, Glenelg, junior.
A repeat first-team All-County pitcher, Stetser was in the circle for just about every meaningful inning for the Gladiators this spring. She threw 89.1 innings in county play and went 12-5 with 70 strikeouts and a 2.33 ERA a year after registering 88 whiffs and a 2.81 ERA.
“She was always willing to help the team in whatever way she could and she did so without a question,” said Glenelg coach Ray Gerstner. “Amy never gave up no matter what happened behind her in the field. She had sheer grit and determination, which made her teammates better in the end.”
At the plate, she had a team-high 17 walks and 22 RBI on just 14 hits and scored 14 runs while batting .292. Also a team captain, she had an RBI double in the playoffs against Marriotts Ridge and allowed only one earned run in the defeat.
Katie Dustin, Glenelg, senior.
A team captain and a repeat first-team All-County selection, Dustin did it all for the Gladiators over her four varsity seasons. She had 24 hits — nine for extra bases and three home runs — six stolen bases, 21 runs and 20 RBI while batting .462 in county play. Defensively, she didn’t commit an error this year, and she’s on first-team All-County for the third straight season.
“She brought lots of experience and knowledge that she always shared with her teammates in order to make everyone around her better,” Glenelg coach Ray Gerstner said. “Katie's positive attitude, love for the game, and her desire to be the best are what make her so successful and impactful.”
Dustin finishes her career as the Gladiators’ all-time leader in RBI (117), runs (109) and doubles (29), and is second in home runs (20). The University of Maryland commit was Glenelg’s Team MVP.
Hailey Ramberg, Long Reach, junior.
Ramberg was one of the county’s top offensive threats this spring. Her 41 hits in county play were second most in the league behind teammate Kamryn Walker, and her 20 extra-base hits and 40 RBI led all county players. She also finished second in league play with six home runs and a .641 batting average, which is nearly double her .323 average last year.
“I can definitely picture Hailey’s beautiful swing,” said Lightning coach Melissa Boardman. “She can crush that ball, and watching her swing and connect perfectly is such a fun moment. She came up with so many clutch hits this season. Hailey also calls every single game and knows the game so well. She works with her backup and JV catchers when needed.”
Lauren Marcotte, Centennial, sophomore.
While pitchers learned to adjust to Marcotte, and she didn’t quite replicate her dominant freshman campaign during which she led the league with a .697 batting average, she was still one of the best all-around players in Howard County. She was one of the smoothest shortstops in the area — she helped turn five double plays — and by no means did she struggle with the bat, as half of her 28 hits went for extra bases and she stole nine bags and drove in 25 runs while batting .483. It’s her second consecutive first-team All-County selection.
“Lauren is an extremely humble player. She is always trying to get better in every single practice,” said Eagles coach Katie Grimm. “Lauren takes practice very seriously and she wastes no rep or opportunity to get a rep. Other players on the team started to pick up on this and take their reps in practice much more seriously. That’s been huge for us.”
Taylor Liguori, Hammond, junior.
Liguori has been one of the best power hitters in the county over the last few years and continued to slug this spring. She had 15 extra-base hits, including a county-high nine home runs, and drove in 29 runs while scoring 31. Defensively, the Player of the Year candidate was one of the best shortstops in the league and is a first-team All-County selection for the second straight year.
“Taylor led us both offensively and defensively throughout the season,” said Golden Bears coach Brad Speierman. “When the other bats on the team went quiet we could always count on Taylor to generate some offense. Her leadership was her greatest contribution to the team. Taylor served as a captain and took that job to the next level, serving as an on-field coach and mentor to her teammates.”
Among the season highlights for the University of Maryland commit was a walk-off home run in extra innings against Centennial.
Hunter Little, Reservoir, senior.
Little was the starting shortstop for the Gators for four years, but this spring was her best offensively and defensively. She was their best power hitter and led the team with 24 RBI, three home runs and 12 doubles while batting .548 on the year. She is also a repeat first-team All-County selection.
“She was a batter that teams did not want to face when runners were in scoring position,” Reservoir coach Julie Frisvold said. “Her impact started with her glove, creating a wall on the left side of the infield. She also became a much more vocal leader this year, supporting her pitchers and encouraging the younger players on the field.”
Frisvold said Little, who will play collegiately at Millersville, took her game to another level in the playoffs and was one of the biggest keys to the Gators winning their first regional championship since 2012.
Breann Smith, Reservoir, senior.
Smith was one of the most consistent first basemen in the county this spring, and Gators coach Julie Frisvold said her ability to pick balls out of the dirt saved numerous runs over the course of the season. A team captain and one of the most vocal leaders of the team, Smith, who will play at Salisbury, also excelled offensively with 32 hits and 17 runs and RBI while batting .500.
“I think Bre established what a great team player looks like and acts like,” Frisvold said. “I hope that the underclassmen watched her and learned how to put the team first. It is a mentality that is difficult to replicate, but a team cannot be successful without players willing to put the team first. ... She 100 percent bought into the team mentality that I wanted to establish this season and she spent the entire season helping to establish that mentality with the team.”
Katie Unkle, Howard, senior.
Unkle was a two-year captain and at second base was one of the best defensive middle infielders in the league this spring. She had the ability to put down a successful bunt, as she finished with nine sacrifices, but she also had 25 hits to hit for average (.463) and drove in 10 runs while scoring 21.
“Her leadership on and off the field will be missed dearly,” Lions coach Chuck Rice said. “Her defense at second base has been stellar ... The ability to dive for balls in the gap and still make throws is incredible. She has gotten the team out of hard situations with her glove. Her bat also came alive this year. Her ability to bunt or hit will be missed.”
Holly Daum, Reservoir, senior.
Daum set the tone for the Gators this spring in every aspect of the game. She was one of the county’s most elite defenders in center field this year, and she also had 38 hits (10 for extra bases), scored 33 runs and drove in 18 while batting .613 (third-highest in the league in the regular season) in the leadoff spot in the order. She also stole nine bases and led the team with eight walks and is a repeat first-team All-County selection.
“Holly’s grit was her greatest attribute because she could always find a way to help the team,” Reservoir coach Julie Frisvold said. “Her confidence walking up to the plate or her fierceness in the outfield gave our team a higher level of confidence. Her heart and hustle is unmatched. She works harder than anyone else and will sacrifice her body to make the big play.”
Daum will play collegiately at South Carolina Aiken.
Shanya Gordon, Howard, senior.
A four-year starter and two-year captain, Gordon was one of the best outfielders in the county over the last four years. She has a strong arm that few base runners challenged and was an exceptional leadoff hitter with 32 hits, 25 runs scored, 13 RBI, two homers and nine walks to go with a .508 batting average. It’s the third straight year Gordon is a first-team All-County selection.
“She was always near the top [in terms of] averages on the team and she led the team in hits this year,” Lions coach Chuck Rice said. “I gave her the nickname of ‘Spark Plug’ three years ago because she has the ability to get our offense started. She has the ability to lead with her talent on the field and she’s going to be missed.”
Katie McIntyre, Glenelg, senior.
A first-team All-County outfielder for the second time in three years, McIntyre was the Gladiators’ top offensive threat this spring. She was a team captain for each of the last two seasons, and this year she had a .509 batting average, 27 hits, scored 27 runs, walked 12 times and drove in 18 runs. Defensively, she committed no errors.
“Katie’s greatest attribute was her steady demeanor,” said Glenelg coach Ray Gerstner. “Nothing seemed to faze her and regardless of the situation she approached everything with 100 percent confidence.”
Among her season highlights was a home run against River Hill in the regular season, and she hit another homer against the Hawks in the playoffs — both victories. She finished her career with 100 runs scored in three varsity seasons.
Kamryn Walker, Long Reach, junior.
Walker was one of the best all-around players in the county this spring. She was a second-team All-County outfielder last season but took her game to another level this year and led the county with 44 hits and a .733 batting average in county games.
“Kamryn is the most consistent hitter I have ever coached,” Lightning coach Melissa Boardman said. “She gets up to the plate and I am confident she is going to get the job done every time. She is also a leader in the outfield. She had two new varsity players on either side of her and Kamryn assisted them daily. Kamryn works so hard and wants what is best for them team, not just for her. Her dedication to the program is what I truly admire most.”
Patty Drumheller, Atholton, senior.
Drumheller was the unquestioned leader of a young Raiders squad this season and led the team in most offensive categories while also playing stellar defense and pitching mostly in relief. Drumheller, who was a second-team All-County pitcher two years ago, had 25 hits, scored 16 runs, drove in nine and stole 13 bases while batting .463 this year. She didn’t strikeout once all year and had no errors playing the field.
“Patty was an invaluable part of the Atholton softball team this year,” said Raiders coach Allyson O’Neill. “She was a leader on and off the field in every possible way. Patty has been a huge part of the softball program at Atholton as a four-year varsity starter. She will be remembered for her versatility, commitment and focus.”