Five run first inning seals win for Blazers
APRIL 3, BLAZER FIELD—
Blair was in no position to breathe a sigh of relief. It was the bottom of the 7th inning and Gaithersburg was playing their most inspired offense of the game. Down 6-0 after five innings the Trojans had chipped the Blazer lead to almost nothing, scoring three runs in the 6th and two more already in the 7th.
Now it was 6-5, and it seemed as if the entire season was tottering on getting one last out. If the Blazers lost they would lose more than their perfect record, they would lose their confidence, swagger and pride, all things that have helped Blair establish themselves as a softball powerhouse in Montgomery County.
Luckily, Blair didn't lose. They were able to preserve their fragile lead, prevailing 6-5. Today's game was one Blair's shakiest of season. The Blazers had never faced a better opposing pitcher, or defense, and their nerves showed as Blair walked several batters, made multiple errors, and almost let the game slip out of their fingers.
Nothing sums up the feelings of the Blair team after the match more than the head coach Louis Hoelman's statement, "Hey, we still won the game." His simple sentence rang true. While Blair had made mistakes, when it mattered most they came through, exhibiting all of the characteristics of a talented and experienced team.
Blair showcased a resilience and toughness never necessary in previous matches. Today, when Gaithersburg challenged, Blair countered, whether with their offense, defense or pitching. Entering the game against another solid team, everyone "knew that we had to make a statement," said junior shortstop Anna Szapiro.
Blair's top two batters, senior Sarah Rumbaugh and junior Allison Rubin, opened the game with quick outs as they struck out and popped out respectively. It was the first time this season that the number one and number two batter both failed to reach first base to start the game. "Their pitcher had a great changeup," said Hoelman, and this pitch effectively disabled all of Blair's left hitting batters, including Rumbaugh and Rubin, two of Blair's most consistent offensive threats.
Szapiro noted that the Gaithersburg pitcher's dominance against lefties made number three batter, junior Michelle Linford, the new leadoff hitter. Fortunately, Linford had a strong game at the plate, going 2-3, to complement her solid performance on the mound.
Linford started Blair's first inning offensive barrage with a single. Junior Claire Lieberman was then hit by a pitch and Szapiro hit a single to load the bases. Junior Annie Denenberg hit the third single of the inning, driving in a run to put Blair ahead 1-0.
With the bases still loaded, junior Lizz Scroggs came up to bat with potential of breaking the game open or wasting a valuable offensive opportunity. Scroggs promptly hit a triple, driving in three runs, pushing the lead to 4-0. "Lizz essentially had the game winning hit for us," complemented Hoelman.
After another Blair single from senior Sara Pierce, Scroggs stole home and sent the Blair team bench into a frenzy. The statement had been made. Blair was out to win.
After that first inning, however, both Blair's offense went silent as Linford entered into duel with the Trojan pitcher. Three innings passed before Blair scored again, this time off of a Rubin single. It was another two innings before Gaithersburg would even get onto the scoreboard.
Linford pitched a solid, if not slightly erratic game. During some Trojan at bats Linford's pitching was simply overpowering, batters swinging wildly, hitting nothing but air. As the game continued the pressure on Linford began to mount. Linford seemed to lose her control, walking batters in four or five pitches.
"Michelle saw that we were struggling at the plate, struggling in the field, and she started trying to do too much," said Hoelman. As Blair's offense disappeared and their defense faltered, Michelle understood that the team's lead and the outcome of the game were in her hands. While Linford made some occasional mistakes, she remained poised throughout the game, never hinting at any frustration, always able to recover and get the necessary outs.
The infield also showed some weaknesses today, their errors providing the Trojans with extra at bats in multiple innings. "We have played clean games before, but I think we got nervous, and then we rushed," said Szapiro.
Blair has rarely had their defense tested this season, using a stellar offense to put teams away early. Today however, the Blair defense was put in several tough situations. They were forced to make quick decisions, sometimes trying to do too much at once. On one play, junior second baseman Annie Denenberg "made a really great catch, but she did not have time to make a throw," according to Szapiro. Denenberg subsequently threw an errant ball past Szapiro's outstretched glove and into the outfield, allowing every Gaithersburg runner to advance and two to score.
Szapiro felt that Blair's defense needed improvement in several areas, most of them mental. "We need to work on taking it one step at a time…We need to work on playing more aggressively…We need to work on making a statement. Other teams need to know that our infield is in control."
Hoelman also felt that there was plenty for the Blair team to take away from today's close match. "We learned can't let teams back into the game and that the momentum of a game can switch with one hit, or one error. Every game is a learning experience."
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