Defending Howard County champion Centennial wondered if it would ever win a game this season. Through three straight losses the Eagles showed good pitching and defense but anemic hitting.
Yesterday at home against Liberty (2-2) the Eagles came to life at the plate, rapping six hits and winning their first game, 7-1.
Centennial center fielder Curtis Mitchell, who led Howard County in batting last season at .452, went 4-for-4 with a double and an RBI. Mike Meitl and Nick Langridge had the other Centennial hits.
"This is the hardest we've ever had to work at the beginning of the season before getting a win," Eagles coach Ron Martin said. "But we've played much better than our 1-3 record."
Martin was delighted with the pitching of junior left-hander Bill Howley, a transfer from Mount St. Joseph. Howley threw a four-hitter, walked one and struck out none in a 92-pitch effort. Only a two-out error in the last inning ruined his shutout.
Howley's fastball was only about 70 mph, but he baffled the Lions with a slow curve and near-perfect control.
"My curve was a little bit inconsistent, but my fielders helped me out a lot," said Howley (1-1), who won his first varsity game. He was the losing pitcher in a 2-0 game against Westminster earlier this season.
Eleven of Liberty's outs were on ground balls -- seven of them to shortstop Ryan Macks, who made one sensational play ranging toward the third-base side.
Liberty's starting pitcher, senior right-hander Eric Eldridge, walked six and threw 100 pitches in five innings. Those walks and two wild pitches were critical.
But Eldridge walked the first batter, and Centennial scored two runs in the first inning. One run scored on a wild pitch.
In the second inning he issued a two-out walk that led to a three-run rally -- one run scored on a wild pitch. A lead-off walk in the fourth inning also scored.
"He usually doesn't have control problems," Liberty coach Steve Insley said. "But he didn't get much support defensively or offensively and he let it get to him."
The Lions, who had beaten Hammond and Mount Hebron, but lost to Glenelg, thought this was their year to beat the normally talent-laden Eagles, state Class 3A semifinalists last season.
"We heard we had a chance to win this year, but they are better than us, that's for sure," Insley said.
Daryl Knight, Ryan Renehan, Matt Horrell and Chris Devins had Liberty's hits. Renehan's was the hardest hit ball off Howley -- a line-drive double to left-center field.
For Centennial, Jason Babcock walked twice and drove in a run with a groundout. John Woods drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. And Langridge had an RBI single.