Standing in center field during Wednesday’s game against Howard, Atholton baseball’s Connor McManus could not stop thinking about what he viewed as a subpar hitting performance. He began the game with an infield single but then struck out twice and grounded out to third. And with the Raiders ahead, 5-3, in the bottom of the seventh inning, it did not seem likely he would have a chance to redeem himself at the plate.
Still, he yearned to make some type of positive impact.
The opportunity presented itself moments later, as McManus charged a single up the middle while sophomore Alex Campbell, who represented the tying run, prepared to round third base. In one swift motion, McManus corralled the ball, cocked his arm back and rifled the ball on target to his catcher. While one run scored on the hit, McManus ensured the second and more important run did not cross home plate safely. The Raiders would escape with a 5-4 win.
“Center fielder made a great throw to get the guy at the plate,” Howard coach Nick Hoffner said. “It was a bang-bang play, but you’ve got to give that kid credit in center field. He made a nice one-hop throw to the catcher to get Alex at the plate.”
Howard (1-1 county, 1-1 overall) finally strung together hits in the seventh inning, which nearly resulted in an impressive comeback after entering the frame down, 5-1.
Before that point, though, the Lions could not seem to figure out sophomore pitcher Benji Thalheimer, who did not allow an earned run over five innings of work. In four of those frames, the Lions recorded a hit. They also struck out just five times all game.
But with runners on base, at least for the first six innings, Hoffner’s team faltered. Back-to-back fly outs stranded runners at first and second in the second inning. Another fly out in the the third left another runner on base. And after Campbell connected for a one-out single in the fourth inning, Atholton immediately wiped him off the base paths.
Second baseman Carson Collier fielded a grounder up the middle and flipped the ball with his glove to senior Jack Lawrence, who whipped the ball over to first base for a double play.
Coach Jon Dupski credited Thalheimer’s ability to locate his fast ball as the main reason for his success. He worked both on the inner half and the outside corner of the plate. When necessary, he was able to throw his off-speed pitches for strikes.
Howard still but the ball in play but did not always make solid contact, and the Raiders made enough defensive plays behind Thalheimer to keep a high-powered offense at bay.
“[Benji] threw extremely well, and in a tough situation,” Dupski said. “Howard’s a fantastic hitting team. They’re always fundamentally sound, they attacked early in the counts, they didn’t take many pitches and put the ball in play, put the ball in play hard. But he did extremely well going after them.”
At the plate, Atholton (1-1, 1-1) showed improvement from their one-hit, 11-strikeout outing in their 2-0 season-opening loss to Mt. Hebron on Monday.
Making contact did not happen right away — Howard starting pitcher Gabe Delgado struck out the maximum six batters in the opening two innings — but after that, the Raiders executed their game plan of making quality contact as much as possible.
Holding a 1-0 lead, that philosophy helped Atholton manufacture a run in the fourth inning. After a leadoff walk, a well-placed punt left the first baseman out of position and the catcher with no where to throw the ball. Then came a low throw from across the diamond the first baseman could not scoop. The Raiders had loaded the bases without hitting the ball out of the infield.
A grounder to first followed, and the first baseman recorded the out this time, but his throw home could not prevent the Raiders from doubling their lead. They proceeded to add three more runs in the fifth inning, two after wild pitches and the third on a fielder’s choice. With a 5-1 lead and Howard’s offense struggling, Dupski’s team appeared in line to secure its first victory of the season.
Dupski opted for Lawrence to close out the game on the hill, even though the senior rarely pitched on the varsity level. The results were mixed, but Lawrence, with some help from his senior teammate in the outfield, did enough to clinch the victory.
“Coming up in the seventh, with a guy coming around third, putting a perfect throw on, I mean I couldn’t ask for anything more as a coach,” Dupski said. “As a senior, coming in starting at center field, [Connor] is playing fantastic defense right now.”
Atholton (1-1 county, 1-1 overall) — 5, Howard (1-1, 1-1) — 4
…….123 456 7 R-H-E
A — 010 130 0 5-6-3
Ho — 000 010 3 4-9-3
Around the horn
River Hill (3-0, 3-0) — 14, Hammond (0-2, 0-2) — 4
Reservoir (2-0, 2-0) — 9, Oakland Mills (0-2, 0-2) — 1
……….123 456 7 R-H-E
OM — 010 000 0 1-5-1
Re — 150 210 0 9-9-0
Reservoir received another solid pitching performance Wednesday, this time courtesy of senior Patrick Joyce, whose lone blemish came when he gave up a home run to junior Ben Looper in the second inning. The solo home run tied the game, but the Gators immediately blew the game open in the bottom of the frame. After two walks, back-to-back doubles from Cameron Hyder and Kyle Chu drove in runs. Sophomore EJ Sweet also had an RBI double to cap the five-run second inning. Meanwhile, coach Adam Leader praised the pitching effort of junior Ryan Mahanand and team’s fielding. The Gators did not commit an error.
Glenelg (1-1, 1-1) — 3, Long Reach (0-2, 0-2) — 2
Marriotts Ridge (1-0, 1-0) vs. Mt. Hebron (1-0, 1-0) — postponed (date TBD)
Centennial (0-1, 0-1) vs. Wilde Lake (1-1, 1-1) — postponed (date TBD)