Cougars can't produce, Blazers pounce

May 10, 2004, midnight | By Luke Bostian | 20 years, 1 month ago

Senior night ends with 4-1 victory


The Blazers capped off senior night at Blair on a high note, beating the Quince Orchard (QO) Cougars, 4-1, despite a messy offensive effort. A huge cake was presented to the team and fans in attendance after the game and the seniors—shortstop Amy Ernst, first baseman Katherine Epstein, right fielder Marianne Epstein, center fielder Becca Feiden and second baseman Anna Schoenfelder—got flowers in appreciation for their leadership and play in a season that could have gone the opposite road from Blair's current 10-5 mark.

Tonight's victory was the seventh in a row for the streaking Blazers. Blair has held opponents to 2.14 runs per game over the stretch, while scoring 10.28 themselves, a 72-19 edge.

Defensively the Blazers continued to show their growth from an inexperienced, error-prone team to the well-poised, quick-thinking crew its speedy athletes always knew they could be. Ernst set the tone in the top of the second, with a leaping catch to rob a Cougar of a line drive single. The Blazers, whose defense has betrayed them at times this year, were solid from there on. In fact, the team committed just one error throughout the game, an overthrow by Schoenfelder in the fourth that led to QO's only run of the night. But without that one blemish the team played a shutout. "I promise to do better in the playoffs," said a rueful Schoenfelder of the play.

The near-shutout belonged to freshman pitching phenom Michelle Linford, who battled the whole game, too. She struggled early with her control, throwing high off and on, but she pulled herself out of jams with key strikeouts. She had five K's on the night against four walks. And she had periods of brilliance, including an efficient eight-pitch second inning and back-to-back strikeouts to pull out of a first-and-third situation in the third. It would have been Linford's fourth shutout of the season.

The offense was a different story. The same group that was averaging ten runs a game couldn't string hits together. It seemed that every Blazer hit at least one infield pop-up, even the team's formidable deep-hitting trio of Linford, junior Emily O'Brien and Katherine Epstein. Linford actually fared best among the Blazers, scoring the game's first run after a triple in the second and then scoring on a grounder by freshman Shanté Henderson, who had come into the game at third to replace freshman Annie Denenberg.

Perhaps the most bizarre play of the night was on a short foul pop-up by Linford to the third-base side. The QO third baseman ran towards the ball and collided with O'Brien, who was on deck and taking her warm-up swings while talking to Hoelman. She realized too late that she needed to get out of the way, and Linford was called out due to interference, though the Cougar did not catch the ball and probably wouldn't have even had O'Brien moved in time.

The Cougar pitcher had most of the Blazers tied up in knots with her rising fastball and unusual, almost side-armed delivery. Unable to create consistent offense, the Blazers resorted to opportunism. In the three-run sixth that put the game away, all of Blair's runs came on small hits. Feiden and Epstein reached on bunts and quickly stole to second and third. An infield single by Linford scored them both, Feiden easily and then Epstein on a hard sprint home after a QO overthrow. Linford then stole around to third and scored on Henderson's grounder. Schoenfelder flied out to end the inning, but the strong base running proved to be enough.

Linford struck the first two batters out in the top of the seventh, even catching the second for a backwards K. Then catcher O'Brien fielded a short ball and threw to Epstein for the final out of senior night.

Smiles on their faces, the team ran to left field for Hoelman's customary post-game talk. He let the underclassmen go after his shortest speech this season, then followed his seniors in to eat their cake.

In the face of packed stands and under the pressure of the last home game before the playoffs begin, Hoelman was proud of his team's performance. "I thought for a senior night with a lost of distractions and a lot of emotions that they did a good job battling in a close game," he said.

Ernst agreed, saying, "It was great because sometimes when the game is close we have trouble staying in it. This time we were able to hold on." This was most true in a pair of early games against top county teams Watkins Mill and Damascus. The Blazers played up to each, even leading late against Watkins Mill before collapsing. That seems to have changed over the season, though, as the team—particularly the three starting freshmen—matures and finds its composure in tight situations.

Hoelman attributes the maturing process largely to his seniors, which he says surprised him early in the year. "Last year, after we graduated seven seniors, I thought we'd be struggling for seniors leadership. But this year's seniors are the best I've ever had," he said.

This year's seniors hope to do something in the next couple of weeks that they've never done; in fact, they hope to do something that no team has done under Hoelman's six-year tenure: They want to win a playoff game. Last year's team won its division and received a first-round bye in the playoffs, only to succumb to Springbrook (a loss the Blazers avenged this year, 6-3).

"Over the past four years the Blair softball program has improved dramatically," said Feiden. "Unfortunately we haven't won a playoff game in my career, but we have a lot of potential and maybe we can go deep."

If Blair holds its next opponent, woeful Churchill, to a run or less, its opponents will be averaging less than two runs over the second half of the season. The Blazers hope to extend their streak to eight against Churchill this Wednesday, May 12, at 7 p.m.

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Luke Bostian. Luke Bostian is a senior in CAP and has nothing much to say for himself. Well, actually, that's a lie. Luke has a lot to say for himself and says it all the time. So he won't bore you with it. Suffice it to say … More »

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