Howard sophomore catcher Paige Eakes pulled out folded piece of paper from her back pocket after recording the second out in the bottom of the sixth inning. On it is a picture of Gru, the protagonist from the “Despicable Me” films, with the word ‘gorl’ written across the bottom. Eakes explained that it was the ‘gorl’ meme that went viral a few weeks ago. It was for good luck.
“It’s, like, our team thing. I don’t even know. None of them like it,” she said. “But I thought it was hilarious so I was keeping with it.”
After the Lions put together one of their most gritty performances of the season — a 2-0 victory against host Montgomery Blair to win the 4A North regional championship on Monday — Eakes proclaimed the paper meme isn’t going anywhere.
“We just decided we’d take this with us and we won against Catonsville with it, so we took it with us and it worked, so now it’s going to states,” she said. “Now we’re definitely keeping with it.”
Howard will face defending state champions Northwest in a 4A state semifinal 7 p.m. Tuesday at Bachman Park.
Eakes managed the only hit of the game for the Lions against Blazers fire baller Courtney Wyche — a two-out single in the first inning — but she stole second, reached third on a dropped third strike and then scored on a wild pitch. Another wild pitch scored Emily Polimeni, and that was it for Howard offensively. Only one more batter reached in the game thanks to an error in the bottom of the second inning.
It would be all Howard would need to win its first regional title since 2011. Freshman pitcher Samantha Hobert outdueled Wyche, a University of Maryland commit who threw no-hitters in each of her first three games this spring, using finesse — not speed. She simply threw strikes, executed hitting her spots inside and outside, and trusted that her defense would be there to pick her up. Hobert struck out one, walked one and allowed just one hit in a seven-inning masterpiece to lift the Lions to victory.
“She’s grown up this year,” Howard coach Chuck Rice said of Hobert. “She’s earned it. She’s definitely earned it. She’s learned to first take the pressure and deal with it, and second of all she’s a perfect person to have the mound because nothing fazes her.”
Hobert retired the first nine batters against Blair, which was the away team despite playing at home, before it got its first base runner via an error to lead off the fourth inning. Hobert, however, got out of the jam with three straight outs.
Maia Greenechang notched the first hit for the Blazers with a one-out single in the fifth, and she reached second base after Hobert threw a wild pitch. Hobert, however, wasn’t fazed. She forced a soft groundout and a fly ball out to right.
Even right fielder Julia Colton made plays like a veteran infielder. On what looked to be sure hard-hit singles to right, she threw out runners at first base in the third and sixth innings to take away a pair of hits.
But Hobert’s toughest task came in the top of the seventh facing the 3-4-5 batters in the Blair lineup. She walked the leadoff batter and a heads-up play by Eakes in the next at-bat to leave a soft tapper dribble foul set up the most important defensive play of the contest. The next pitch was grounded to freshman shortstop Lindsey Smith, who executed a 6-4-3 double play with second baseman Katie Unkle to clear the bases.
“Our defense was incredible, just unbelievably incredible,” Rice said. “The second-to-last play of the game just showed it.”
Hobert could help but smile stepping on the rubber to try to get the third out. A groundout to Smith ended it.
“She’s gutsy and she just balls out every time she gets on the mound,” Eakes said of Hobert. “She’s got that mentality of, ‘I’m going to shut them down.’ She knows everyone out here has her back and we all have faith in her.”
The Blazers played the Lions on the back end of a double-header after defeating Urbana, 8-3, in the first game. Coach Louis Hoelman said his team struggled adjusting to Hobert’s speed after they faced a hard-throwing pitcher in the first game against the Hawks.
“It’s not like a game we lost. The other team came out and won it,” he said. “I thought they played great defense, I thought the pitcher did a nice job moving the ball inside and out, and anytime we hit the ball hard they made great plays on it, especially the right fielder. She threw us out twice and that killed the momentum for us, we couldn’t get on a roll.”
Mikayla Barnard led off the bottom of the seventh with a triple and scored on the next pitch to give Marriotts Ridge a walk-off victory. Madi Costigan (2-4, R), Molly Nies (3-4, 2 R, RBI) and Barnard (2-3, 2 R, RBI) had multiple hits for the Mustangs, and Ashleigh Gerber had two RBIs. Megan Hughes allowed three earned run on eight hits while striking out seven over five innings, and Romy Lindahl pitched two scoreless frames.
Glenelg’s Katie Dustin (3-4, R) and Sage Huber (2-4, R) had multiple hits and Katie McIntyre had two RBIs. Amy Stetser allowed just one earned run at pitcher.