Hammond hit with power, pitched with finesse and fielded almost flawlessly while defeating No. 7 Centennial, 6-4, yesterday, maintaining a share of first place in a five-team Howard County baseball championship race.
The loss dropped host Centennial (8-3 overall and league) one game behind Hammond (9-2 overall and league), Mount Hebron and Glenelg into a second-place tie with Howard. Centennial had defeated Hammond earlier this season.
"We underestimated Centennial the first time and came in here more focused today," said Hammond coach Bob Maxey, whose Bears won their seventh straight game.
Pat Fields and Jason Maxey each homered for the No. 12 Bears. Fields hit his first homer this season -- an opposite-field, bases-empty shot to right-center on an outside pitch in the first inning. Maxey hit his fifth home run on an 0-2 changeup, the ball sailing over the right-center-field fence during a four-run third inning. He has homered in four of the past five games.
Brian Brewer and Phil Pinkham each doubled for the Bears during that third inning. Pinkham's hit drove in two runs.
The Bears added a sixth run in the sixth inning on a single by Pinkham, two sacrifice bunts and a sacrifice fly. Jason Harriman drove in the run.
Kevin Schwartz (5-0) started for Hammond and lasted 6 1/3 innings -- the longest by a Bears starter all season. The right-hander allowed four runs on six hits, walked two and hit a batter.
"My fastball's velocity was off today, but I had good location and my curve and changeup were working," Schwartz said. "The upper part of their batting order is real aggressive, so I threw them a lot of curves and sliders. And my ball must have been sinking because I got a lot of ground-ball outs ."
Hammond's relief pitching was almost perfect. Jeff Miller struck out one and recorded another out on a pickoff in the sixth inning.
Brewer pitched the seventh and gave up no hits, though he hit a batter and survived a scare when Centennial's Ryan Barwick was retired for the final out on a deep drive to right-center that center fielder Harriman chased down with a fine running catch.
The Bears made only one error. And catcher Maxey picked off two Centennial runners during the Eagles' two-run third inning.
Eagles starter Brian Neidig pitched Centennial's first complete game of the season, allowing nine hits and two walks.