The month of July has been cruel to the Columbia Reds' 17-18 baseball team.
The Reds began the month in third place in the Baltimore Metro Baseball League's eight-team, senior division. Then, they tumbled hard, losing 11 of their last 13 games to end up in fifth with a 13-20 record.
"We lost eight in a row at one point, including three in a row that we lost in the bottom of the seventh inning," Reds manager Larry Thompson said. "Out of those three, we blew a one-run lead and two, two-run leads. It was tough to handle."
What didn't go wrong? The Reds faded in every phase. Their once-potent lineup sagged in the heat. Columbia averaged nine strikeouts and only 2.5 runs over that 13-game stretch, while the team batting average fell to .275. Columbia stranded an average nine runners. It loaded the bases 29 times this season without scoring a run.
The Reds' once-solid pitching also faltered, as they ended with a team ERA of 4.31. And Columbia's defense never got untracked. The Reds committed 90 errors in 33 games.
"What was frustrating is we were so competitive. We had a
chance to win just about every game," Thompson said. "We hardly ever got blown out."
Twelve of the Reds' 18 players are from Howard County, and several of the local players distinguished themselves. Three of Columbia's four .300 hitters included Billy Ferguson (Wilde Lake High, .372), David Brewer (Hammond, .325) and Ryan Schneider (Atholton, .300). The team's top pitcher was Oakland Mills' Matt Noon (5-3, 2.81 ERA, 42 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings).
The Reds will conclude their season on Sunday at Memorial Stadium, where they will play Beduoins -- the league's third-place team -- immediately following the Bowie Baysox-Binghamton Mets game.
Last week, three senior pitchers who could be the class of county softball next spring -- Atholton's Kim Ruprecht, Centennial's Kim May and Glenelg's Emily Kessler -- showed their stuff in a 16-18 All-Star game between the Howard County Youth Program and a team composed of the best from Baltimore and Carroll counties.
Howard County lost the game, 1-0, although it was hard to fault Ruprecht, May and Kessler. They combined on a two-hitter and recorded 15 strikeouts.
The Hurricanes, an 11-12 Howard County Youth Program slow-pitch softball team, are headed to the Pony League nationals in Round Rock, Texas. The Hurricanes earned a trip to the national round-robin tournament by going 29-2 and winning five major tournaments.
The Hurricanes, who won 21 consecutive games at one point, are led by pitcher Stephanie Kunkel, who has a 24-1 record, thanks partly to terrific outfield defense and generous offensive support.
Every starter on the team is batting over .500. Jackie Fiore leads the team with a .700 average. Robyn West, Kristen Foster, Colleen Cox and Terry Daniels have collected over 50 RBI.
The nationals will run from Thursday to Aug. 7. Through a series of fund-raisers, the Hurricanes came up with $10,000 to finance
* The wrestling team at Hammond High School turned a major corner last winter, when the Golden Bears finally overcame Oakland Mills and won a county tournament. Even though they graduated several key wrestlers, the Bears still figure to be the team to beat next season.
Dan Proulx and John Motley, two huge factors in the Bears' county title -- Motley won a title and Proulx was second -- have been outstanding on the mat this summer. They made the Maryland State Team, and last month in Hershey, Pa., Proulx (135) and Motley (140) finished second and third, respectively, at the AAU Grand Nationals.
"This is the first time we've ever had kids try out for any summer teams," Hammond coach Bill Smith said.
In addition to Proulx and Motley, Hammond will enjoy the return of senior Chris Williams, who won a county championship as a sophomore.
* Here's an interesting side note to last week's inaugural Chesapeake Classic, the football game that pitted the top 33 graduated high school players from Maryland against those from Northern Virginia.
Wilde Lake's Donald Gibson and Craig Butler were the only two Howard County representatives chosen to the team. During the Wildecats' run to their third straight state championship last fall, Gibson enjoyed far more headlines as the leader of Wilde Lake's superb defense.
Last week, though, it was Butler's turn. He was credited with four tackles from his defensive back position in Maryland's 18-16 loss. Butler is headed to Kent State. Gibson will attend Central State. Both schools are in Ohio.