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Big-inning offense, shutdown defense carries Howard softball past Long Reach

It’s been no secret that the backbone of this year’s Howard softball team is pitching and defense.

That was again the case Wednesday afternoon against Long Reach, with Samantha Hobert pitching a two-hitter in the circle and the fielders behind her making no errors to set the stage for a late-inning offensive explosion that sealed the deal on a 9-1 victory.

Howard scored four runs in the second inning and added five more in the sixth, improving to 8-1 in county play this spring.

“Our defense has always been strong and it’s something we pride ourselves on,” said Howard’s Paige Eakes, who went 3-5 with a RBI triple and a run scored to go along with locking things down at shortstop. “We know that if we can’t get the bats going [early], we know our defense will back us up until we get the bats going. It’s always super helpful for us, allowing us to not be as stressed going into those later innings.”

Eakes finished as one of four Lions’ with multiple hits — joined by Lindsey Smith (3-5, 2-RBI double, run), Julia Colton (2-5, double, triple, 2 runs) and Sophia Morton (3-4, RBI double, run). Mary Wagenblast also came in off the bench to deliver a 2-RBI double as part of the decisive sixth inning.

After Howard (8-1, 8-2) had left its share of runners stranded in scoring position early on, coach Chuck Rice said he was pleased with the adjustments his players made the third and fourth time through against Long Reach pitcher Sayla Phillips.

“I tip my hat to Long Reach because they had us guessing a few times those first couple innings and it took us some time to figure out what was coming. But, as the game went on, you could see the girls gel and string together those quality at bats,” Rice said. “It’s coming around for us. We know we are capable of hitting the ball, and hitting it hard, it’s just a matter of doing it all at the same time.”

Hobert pitched the complete game, allowing just a pair of hits to Long Reach (4-5, 4-5) freshman Sierra Sims. She finished with seven strikeouts and set the Lightning down in order on four occasions.

On those rare occasions where Hobert did find trouble, like in the bottom of the seventh when Sims roped a double to right center, her defense shut the door. It was Eakes who corralled a grounder to her right and fired to first for the final out of the game, securing the eight-run win.

“Our pitching and our defense are shutting down major ball players in the county right now,” Rice said. “We are putting more pressure on the opponent because they know the opportunities are going to be limited regardless of whether it’s Sam or Angelina [Tyler] pitching.”

Howard’s four-run second inning featured a 2-RBI double from Smith, a RBI double from Colton and a RBI single from Becky Merson. After that, however, Phillips (5 strikeouts in seven innings) settled in and the Lightning seemed to grab back some of the momentum by plating their first run in bottom of the fifth.

Sims led off with a single and eventually came around to score on a RBI groundout by Brittney Dix to cut the Lions’ lead to 4-1. Before Long Reach could build on things further, though, Howard delivered the knock out blow its next time up at bat.

“As the game went on, we started putting the ball in play but simply could not get the ball to drop. And, yes, we did seem to slowly be turning things in our favor finally in that fifth inning. I just felt like we needed one more shut down inning … unfortunately we didn’t get it,” Long Reach coach Melissa Boardman said. “We’re still working toward playing seven innings of softball at this point.”

Howard is back in action on Friday at home against Atholton, while Long Reach travels to face off against first-place Hammond.

Howard (8-1, 8-2) — 9, Long Reach (4-5, 4-5) —1

…….123 456 7 R-H-E

Ho…040 005 0 9-16-0

LR…000 010 0 1-2-1

Reach Brent Kennedy at bkennedy@baltsun.com or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports

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