As perennial county-title contenders, the Centennial Eagles are accustomed to playing crucial games late in the season.
The Eagles have stumbled at times this spring with one of their younger teams. But they took on a veteran look yesterday with an important 8-1 victory over visiting Atholton that might have been Centennial's most efficient performance of the year.
Centennial's Kim May took a no-hit shutout bid into the sixth inning before settling for a two-hitter. The Eagles (10-3, 7-2) supported her with a 12-hit attack, including eight hits that staked May to a 4-0 lead after four innings. And besides permitting an unearned run in the seventh inning that robbed May of a shutout, the Eagles' defense took care of business.
"We really came together today. The key is to continue to play like this," Centennial coach Dale Huting.
Centennial picked the ideal time to come together. Facing upstart Atholton -- which entered the game undefeated against the county and leading Centennial by two games -- the Eagles probably could not have afforded to lose if they hoped to repeat as county champions.
Atholton (9-5, 8-1) could have virtually sealed its first county title under six-year coach Dave Vitagliano. But the Raiders blinked.
They didn't have a base runner until the third inning. Before avoiding a shutout in the seventh, they stranded four runners in scoring position.
Meanwhile, pitcher Kim Ruprecht was in trouble constantly. She allowed at least two base runners every inning and surrendered at least a run in every inning but the fifth.
The two meet again this afternoon, this time at Atholton.
"For a lot of our kids, this was the first real pressure game they've played in their high school careers," Vitagliano said. "I think it was a little bit intimidating to them. Centennial is used to this."
The Eagles wasted no time assisting May. An RBI single by Kathy Gallagher (2-for-3) gave them a 1-0 lead in the first inning. In the second inning, Kelly Butler collected the first of four RBI with a sacrifice fly to extend the lead to 2-0.
The Eagles added an unearned run in the third, then made it 4-0 in the fourth when Michelle Dugan (2-for-2, three runs) doubled, moved to third on a single by Terri Bickerton's (3-for-3), then scored when Butler grounded out.
That provided more than enough backing for May. Using a good fastball and fine location, she retired the first eight batters she faced and didn't surrender a hit until Stacey Williams led off the sixth with a single up the middle. May finished with two walks and eight strikeouts.
"Everyone came out pumped up today. We knew this team was undefeated, and we knew we had to beat them because it [the county title] is between us, Atholton and Glenelg," said May, who improved her record to 8-3. "I was concentrating on every pitch, and the defense helped me. We've had our off-days this year. Today, we were totally on."