Defending county champion Atholton kept itself within a game of first place in the county standings yesterday with an extra-inning victory against visiting Howard. Today, the eighth-ranked Raiders have a chance to catch league-leading Long Reach when they visit the unbeaten Lightning.
"I think the girls are pumped," said Atholton coach John Zitko after his team edged the Lions, 2-1, in eight innings. "You can't ask for a better steppingstone going into tomorrow's game."
Atholton (6-1) tied Howard (4-3) with a run in the sixth and won it in the eighth when Tiffany Mathis' single over the drawn-in left fielder scored Karen Lee.
"I just wanted to hit it in the air as far as I could," said Mathis.
Howard, coming off a 7-0 loss Monday to Long Reach in which Lightning pitcher Kristen Schaper struck out 14, had some good shots against Atholton's Katie Zitnay. But the Raiders' defense -- led by left fielder Julie Frostbutter and center fielder Mathis -- was up to the task.
The Lions' defense also played well. Left fielder Megan Allen and center fielder Kim Palmer had excellent catches, and pitcher Kristin Gormus caught a screaming line drive in the seventh that led to a double play.
"It was a great game," said Howard coach Dave Vezzi. "I don't think you'll see any better defense by two teams."
Howard took the lead in the fifth when Lindsey Hasiuk led off with a double. She moved to third on a groundout, and scored on Allen's sacrifice fly to left.
Leadoff hitter Aubrey Barrett started Atholton's sixth-inning rally with an infield hit. Mathis, batting next, faked a bunt and hit the ball down the third-base line and into left field. Barrett watched the ball slow down in the outfield grass and smartly took third. Mathis moved to second on the throw to the infield.
Gormus walked Zitnay to load the bases, then struck out Sarah Costa for the first out. Kelly Kemp lifted a high pop-up just behind the second base bag and was called out on the infield fly rule. But second baseman Hasiuk and Palmer collided, and the ball hit the ground. Barrett raced home to tie the game.
Howard had runners on second and third with two outs in the eighth, but Zitnay struck out Amber Slavotinek to end the threat.
Barrett led off Atholton's eighth with a sacrifice bunt that advanced Lee from second to third. Mathis delivered the game-winner, setting up today's game between the county's top two teams.
"If Schaper pitches the way she pitched the other day, she's going to be tough for Atholton," said Vezzi.
Mathis said the Raiders will be ready.
"We've been preparing for her," said Mathis. "Our team adjusts really well. I don't think there will be any problem."