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SILVER SPRING – From start to finish, the Damascus High School softball team held control of the game against James Hubert Blake High School but the spotlight shone on senior Swarmin’ Hornets pitcher Rachel Benden.
The senior rose to the occasion, throwing 12 strikeouts to help keep Damascus undefeated with their sixth straight win, shutting out Blake 11-0, on April 1st.
Aside from Damascus’s victory, Benden reached an impressive pitcher milestone: she recorded her 300th career strikeout when she dispatched Blake’s Shayla Growney at the end of the fourth inning. Benden would end the game with a total of 302 career strikeouts.
“I felt really awesome about getting the ball since freshman year and it’s really exciting to help your team win the game,” said Benden. “Honestly it’s a really great feeling, I feel very grateful, very blessed.”
“She’s the shining light behind the team,” said Damascus Head Coach Lindsay Burns. “She pushes them every day, and I think the team, seeing that today with 300 strikeouts, shows the passion that she has for the sport and the exact reason why she’s signed to go to Chesapeake (Community College) next year.”
Benden’s pitching befuddled Blake’s hitters, forcing short innings and creating close scenarios where a scoring play by Blake would be cut short by a strikeout. Conversely, Damascus’ hitters took advantage of Blake’s weaknesses and exploited every error to score runs.
“It was all definitely behind Rachel (Benden) for sure. She really makes us want to help her, be behind her,” said junior Damascus shortstop Kate Lanham. “I think what really helped us most was our hitting. We hit from beginning to end to keep control of this game.”
After a first inning where freshman Damascus outfielder Anna Lightsey scored the first run of the game and a scoreless second inning, Damascus kicked the game into high gear with seven runs. The hits eluded Blake’s offense, and catching errors provided gaps that Damascus could exploit.
Stolen bases made it easier for Damascus to find home plate. Benden scored the second run of the game on a single after stealing second and third base.
Through walks and stolen bases, Damascus managed to load the bases and reload them for much of the second inning. The loaded bases meant that just a single had a high potential of conversion to a run for the road team.
At one point, Damascus senior center fielder Grace Garrett bunted to reach first base, pushing junior second baseman Abby Lightsey home.
“We are battling a very good hitting team and you just can’t make errors against a team like that,” said Blake Head Coach Nicole Wallace. “We are struggling on defense right now, I think we’re doing well on the mound and we have been doing pretty good on offense, we just haven’t been able to produce, today at least.”
Lanham and sophomore left fielder Hannah Schmitz scored in the fourth inning, widening the lead to 10. Benden scored the last run of the game in the fifth inning off of a single by Schmitz to cap off the game.
“Holding Damascus to 11 (runs) is a small win in of itself,” said Wallace, referencing the strength that the Swarmin’ Hornets have shown in their season so far.
Damascus opened their season with 22-1 victory over Walter Johnson. In the six games so far, the closest game was a 5-1 win over Quince Orchard. In four of the six games, this one included, Damascus beat teams with at least an 11-point margin. This game is also their second shutout of the season, following a 13-0 win over Seneca Valley on March 30.
“They’re a great group of girls that really want the best for each other. They believe in each other, support each other on and off the field,” said Burns. “They’ve been playing for a couple (of) years together now and finally things are starting to click for them and work out for the best.”