If Thursday’s softball showdown was truly a dry run for the Baltimore County championship game – and it more than likely was – then Towson ought to feel pretty good.
But not comfortable.
Though the No. 8 Generals piled on early, No. 12 Catonsville prevented the shutout and shaved Towson’s advantage pretty close, but fell 4-3.
“If you don’t like to be part of those kind of games, then you don’t like softball,” Comets coach Steve McCleary said.
Senior pitcher Jessie Leatherwood said she has never played for a Generals (12-1) squad like this.
“We are very dominant this year,” Leatherwood said. “I completely 100 percent trust every single person that is in the field, every single person in the lineup, that they’re going to get hits. It’s a really good feeling to have 100 percent confidence in every person on the team. A really good feeling.”
Part of that dominance flowed through the bat of leadoff slugger Nicole Poling, who hit for the harder half of the cycle – a home run and a triple – for a 2-for-4 outing. Amari Lloyd (2-for-3) and Taylor Brumagin (2-for-2) had as much success in the box on Thursday.
“How [Poling] and Taylor go is how we will go,” Towson coach Jon Salvino said. “And her and Taylor started off the game. They put the ball in play. They get on base with their speed.”
Leatherwood recorded seven strikeouts over seven innings and 157 pitches. A triple-digit total is not an unusually high pitch count by her standards, which was important since the Comets (11-3) banged at her door in the top of the seventh with runners on second and first.
In that moment, like almost every other moment, Catonsville posed a serious threat to the senior, Leatherwood had to not only trust her fielders, but she had to trust herself.
“Throughout the whole year, regardless of the score, every game has given us situations where we’ve had runners on second and third, less than two outs, bases loaded, less than two outs, and we have found ways to really limit the damage,” Salvino said. “It’s become natural for us to just get out of those jams.”
The first time – the most harrowingly close from Towson’s vantage – arrived early. The top of the order jammed the bases against Leatherwood, and had catcher Macie Hakim not trapped Deanna Delaney at the plate, it would have been a 1-0 Catonsville ballgame.
After that, Leatherwood tossed her way out of it, and not for the last time.
Knowing that their top county competition was not fooling around, the Generals struck quickly. First, after filling their own bags against Comets pitcher Sammi Sisolak, first baseman Olivia Ingrao cracked a line drive to center field to plate Brumagin.
Then, down two outs and a strike, Lloyd reached first after grounding a single to Sisolak, scoring Leatherwood.
Sisolak, with eight fanned batters and just two walks allowed through six innings, would solve Towson’s offense eventually, but not in the second inning. Poling, who’d popped out in the first, stuffed a little more thunder in her swing this time to club her solo blast to center.
By doing so, Poling logged her second home run in two weeks, her last she launched against Perry Hall.
“She’s just really stroking it,” Salvino said, “and for her to hit one off a quality pitcher that we saw today, that’s just a huge confidence booster for her and our team.”
After the Generals averted calamity again after a bases-loaded top-third, they put on a little padding. Poling located her sweet spot again, making a triple out of her line to center. With her predecessor in perfect position, Brumagin sent her home.
Even down 4-0, Catonsville never felt like it was out.
McCleary told his hitters that the third time through, they’d start to figure Towson out.
“They stayed patient. They never gave up,” McCleary said. “They don’t get too excited either way. Down 4-0, they could have easily folded the house and went. But we took it an inning at a time.”
Bases weren’t jammed this time – just the corners – but the Comets wouldn’t leave them there in the fifth. Maddie Sampson cranked a line double to the outfield, giving Erin Kreis and Don’ya Truesdale plenty of room to race home.
But cutting the lead in half wasn’t enough. Not for the top of the order.
Kristina Dayhoff, the seventh batter, pushed Sampson to third on a single. Ninth batter Amber McDevitt walked to prevent a third out.
By the time Delaney (3 for 4) saw her second pitch whistling towards her, she was primed to hit her RBI – so she did.
“We always look at nine as a leadoff batter,” McCleary said. “We try to look at six the same way. We never want to have a dead spot.”
Catonsville had picked Towson’s lead down to the bare bone, and it didn’t help that Sisolak handily struck out the side in the bottom of the inning and retired all three again in the bottom of the sixth.
It was up to Leatherwood and the defense to preserve it.
Leatherwood came close to doing so without letting anyone safely touch second base. She caught Dayhoff at second for the first out and whiffed McDevitt for the second.
After tacking two strikes on Delaney, she was that close to quieting a Comets rally.
But that’s not the role Delaney had played thus far.
She launched a fly single to left, advancing Meghan McDaniel to second. It was time for a do-over.
“I can definitely hit my spots a little better,” Leatherwood said. “There’s a good amount of hits that Catonsville had against me that I should limit. I know that going into next time.”
Again, Leatherwood piled two strikes, on pinch-hitter Tara Bowen. This time, when Bowen’s bat met ball, the outcome changed. The ball skipped down the line to Ingrao, who gloved it for the third out.
When Leatherwood crashed into her catcher in celebration, it might have foreshadowed a similar scene come the county championship – or it might not have. Catonsville has just Franklin and Patapsco left on its county schedule, both teams it has already beaten.
As for Towson, there’s just one opponent left on the docket that could shake things up, leaving an opening for Eastern Tech to potentially step in.