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May 9, 2005

Linford proves to be major relief in Blazers win

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor

In her previous home pitching appearance, Michelle Linford gave one of the best pitching performances in school history; hurling the first perfect game in years at Blair. Tonight, she didn't even start, but picked up the win in relief, while also knocking in three runs in the process as the Blazers knocked off the Wheaton Knights, 11-6.

The game was filled with sloppy defensive play and wild pitching on the part of the Knights' (1-13), who committed five errors tonight. The Wheaton errors came mostly in Blair's (14-3) three-run bottom of the third and the four-run bottom of the fifth innings.

In the third, Linford reached base and scored thanks to errors. After reaching on an error, she scored after first baseman Brittany Ruckle, who retired Annie Denenberg on the play, threw wide of third base. The ball skipped away and Linford scored easily to give Blair a 6-4 lead, one they would hold for the rest of the game.

In the fifth, Wheaton committed two errors on one play. Linford hit a sharp grounder to second baseman Kristina Ramirez, who missed the ball off a bad carom on the infield dirt. The ball went all the way to center, where the centerfielder overran it. Linford got all the way to third base thanks to the errors.

The errors allowed Danielle McClay to score her first run on the varsity level. She was called up from JV prior to tonight's game, and singled in her first at-bat. Anna Szapiro also scored on the play to make the lead 8-4. Linford would score on the next play, as Denenberg singled to bring her home.

Szapiro scored again on a wild pitch in the sixth inning by Wheaton starter Amy Grubic to put Blair up 11-6, the final score.

With the win, Blair moved into third place in the Montgomery 4A West Division standings, trailing Damascus and Gaithersburg, who both currently sit at 14-1. The team had intended to rest Linford tonight, but starter Shante Henderson struggled with her controls on pitches in the first inning.

She walked four Wheaton hitters in the inning, and Brittany Ruckle was able to score without a single Knights hit in the frame. Blair manager Louis Hoelman pulled Henderson after that single inning of work, because, he said, "you have to give your team the best chance to win, and she walked [four] batters in the inning."

He said he started Henderson; the first time anyone either than Linford or Denenberg has pitched all year, because he wanted to see if she would be capable as an emergency pitcher in the playoffs, which begin this week. "I wanted to see how Shante looked if a player got hurt," he said, "and Wheaton had one win and I wanted to see what she could do."

The experiment was abruptly halted following her 29-pitch first inning. By the time Henderson had walked her third batter, Linford was already warming up, playing catch with McClay behind the Blazer bench.

Linford relieved Henderson in the second, much earlier than she said she expected to pitch. "I was going to pitch tonight, but I didn't expect to pitch as much as I did," she said.

The Blair ace went six innings, but they were not as breezy as her six perfect innings last Thursday against Kennedy. In fact, she got into trouble in the top of the third inning, allowing three runs in the frame. At that point, Blair was trailing 4-3 to a team that had won just a single game all season.

Despite eventually building a comfortable lead and winning 11-6, Blair's struggles to bury one of the lower teams in the division until late in the game upset Hoelman. "We took Wheaton way too lightly today. They could have beaten us," he said.

Linford won, but was not as dominant as usual, surrendering five runs, three earned, over six innings. She did strike out seven Knights, but she gave up ten hits, walked two batters and hit another. After the game, she was critical in assessing her performance. "I think I was bad," she said bluntly.

She also was quick to add, however, that the game was a humbling lesson for the team to learn, especially because they still won. After the game, she said, "Hoelman told us to step our game up for the playoffs," adding that she feels tonight "was just one game, and we'll be ready" come the postseason.

The Blazers did hit well tonight, getting 10 hits from seven different batters. Linford was 1-3, but reached all three times because of errors, drove in three runs and scored each time she got on base. Claire Lieberman, Szapiro and Emily O'Brien each scored twice. Oddly, Blair got three triples (from Linford, Szapiro and O'Brien) but no doubles.

Blair will play the back end of their season-ending doubleheader tomorrow night at home against Magruder, a make-up game for one that was previously rained out.

At this point, the Blazers are almost likely assured of earning a first-round bye in the Maryland State Playoffs for being in the Top Four in the Montgomery 4A West Division, but another win would clinch a free pass into the second round.

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  • FAN on May 11, 2005 at 7:57 AM
    This article leads everyone to believe that we won stickly on errors. That was not the case. We have a solid team. It takes alot of skill to get as far as they did.
    Good job Blazers.
  • parent on May 11, 2005 at 8:29 AM
    Agreed: This game was not won on errors alone. The girls played a good game.
    As far as Shante, she was not given much of a chance. The umpire was a rookie and couldnt make the right call all night to save his life.
    Good game Blazers. You won on skill not errors.
  • softball fan on May 12, 2005 at 7:52 AM
    Not to mention that on Tuesday the team played BCC, not Magruder. Please, please double-check your facts before you post articles.
  • softball on March 8, 2006 at 9:18 AM
    Congrats on a great season!!!
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