THURMONT — Heavy winds blew across Catoctin’s softball field at times on Friday, bringing a winter-like chill. And more than once, snowflakes fell.
Such conditions made it hard to believe it was, in fact, spring.
But there was one unmistakeable sign of the season. Like they do pretty much every spring, Cougars batters were hitting the ball hard, and often doing so with runners on base.
Leadoff hitter Courtney Eyler set the tone in the first inning, ripping a first-pitch double to the left-center gap. That was one of six extra-base hits by the Cougars, including homers by Jessica Wood and Raegan Smith, in their 13-3 win over Linganore during Friday’s season opener.
Eyler, Wood and Smith are just a few of the returnees from a Catoctin team that reached the Class 1A championship game last season. And from how those three and others played Friday, it looks like Catoctin will once again feature a potent offense.
Wood delivered the first major blow, a three-run homer over the left-center field fence to highlight a five-run rally in the second inning that gave the Cougars a 9-1 lead.
Did Wood homer last season?
“Not last year. The year before,” the senior second baseman said. “So it’s been awhile.”
Of course, hitting homers isn’t the only way to help an offense.
“She’s got a powerful swing,” Catoctin coach Jessica Valentine said. “She’s just more of a line drive [hitter].”
As for Smith, the reigning Frederick News-Post Player of the Year, she’s been one of Frederick County’s top power hitters for years. Last season, she finished with a county-best eight home runs despite missing 10 games in the middle of the season with a broken hand.
She belted a two-run homer that landed well beyond the center-field fence in the fifth and had an RBI double in the second.
Starting pitcher Ashley Mayton doubled and had a multi-hit game, Kassidy Tobery had a two-run double, and Madison Tobery reached base four times.
“The top of the lineup is all returners, so we’re taking advantage of that,” Valentine said. “It’s just a matter of putting the little things together.”
For instance, Catoctin had some defensive miscues. But as Valentine said, it’s early. And Mayton praised her defense, which she was a part of before assuming the lead pitcher role vacated when Grace Mazaleski graduated after last season.
Mayton spent last year playing center field, where she earned All-County first-team honors. But she pitched for her travel team and has seen some action in the circle with the Cougars.
“She’s just such a good outfielder, it’s hard to take her out of the outfield,” Valentine said. “It still hurts to do it, but she’s a good pitcher. It’s about what makes a better team.”
Mayton gave up three runs in five innings. She got in jams in the second and third innings but avoided big trouble by holding the Lancers to one run each time.
“I feel like she’s really been able to step up as our lead pitcher,” Wood said. “She moves the ball around, and she’s got some heat on it. That’s always a good combination against some of these better teams.”
Linganore is usually one of the county’s better teams. The Lancers lost many key players from last year’s team, which won the Central Maryland Conference Spires crown, but return six players.
One of the returnees is Jenna McLain, who was the starting pitcher on Friday. She did some pitching last season, but the Lancers leaned heavily on All-County first-teamer Kaitlyn Naill, who graduated.
The Lancers also lost offensive threats Jordan Specht, Cailyn Barthlow and Logan Breidenstein to graduation. They need others to get timely hits, like the RBI double Samantha Everett had in the fourth inning on Friday.
“Opening day, we’ve got work to do. We’ve got some younger people on the field,” Lancers coach Andrea Poffinberger said. “The biggest thing is, we didn’t hit with runners in scoring position. They did, and they always do.”