The scoreboard planted down one end of the Chesapeake softball field serves as a not-so-subtle reminder.
It reads, "Home Of The State Champion Cougars."
"And until someone proves otherwise, we are," said Coach Dennis Thiele.
Chesapeake opened its defense of the 4A state title yesterday by defeating Glen Burnie, 3-0, in the first of three possible meetings between the league rivals.
The Cougars travel to Glen Burnie on April 22, and both teams are competing in this weekend's tournament at North County, where they either could clash in the finals or theconsolation round.
Chesapeake ace Amy Jakubowski hopes to be moreeffective in future confrontations.
She's clearly her own harshest critic.
The senior windmiller allowed only one hit, and three base runners total, in going the distance. She struck out five and did not issue a walk in throwing 74 pitches.
"I didn't think I was as strong as I could be. It will get better, I hope," said Jakubowski, who had retired 12 straight until Heather Smith reached on a two-out error in the seventh inning.
Glen Burnie's lone hit came with two outs in the third, when Erin Sutton singled past the outstretched glove of Cougars' second baseman Becky Thiele.
An inning earlier, Glen Burnie's Stacey Jordan reached on a passed ball after taking a thirdstrike.
Otherwise, Jakubowski was in complete control, allowing only five balls to leave the infield, including a Jordan liner to center fielder Tracy Starke to end the game.
"I'd say she was throwingabout 92 percent today," Thiele said. "You've got to remember, this is early in the season. I don't want them to come out smoking right away. I want them to peak at the right time."
The Chesapeake hitters touched Glen Burnie starter Mandy Albrecht for eight hits, including three straight with two outs in the fourth that scored the last tworuns.
The inning started with Stacey Matcuk reaching on an error by Gophers' first baseman Christy Hutson, who mishandled a throw fromsecond baseman Michelle Ackerman. After the next two batters were retired -- with Matcuk advancing to third -- sophomore Nancy Yeager blooped a run-scoring single to right.
Kristen Spak, the No. 9 hitter, singled to right to put runners on first and third, and sophomore Stacey Necessary followed with a single to center that scored Yeager.
Spak, a junior, was thrown out at third to end the inning.
"My younger kids on the team came through in the clutch," Thiele said. "Last year, they kind of choked with people on base, but today they came through with some key hits."
Chesapeake had taken a 1-0 lead in the first on a two-base error and Stacey Grokas' single.
Thiele feared one of the Cougars' toughest fights this season would be againstoverconfidence, "but we've had some discussions in our team meetingsand that's not the case."
"These kids are very mature when it comes to their ballgame. They know what their strengths are, they know what their weaknesses are, and they're hard at work," he said.
"I told the kids, 'Look, we're at the top of the hill right now and everybody is turning their guns toward us. This is it.' Usually, I like tocome out of the woods and go after somebody, but we're there.
We're the ones everybody is going after."
The long list includes GlenBurnie, which was eliminated by Chesapeake in last year's region semifinals.
"Defensively, we didn't play as well as we can," Gophers coach Bob Broccolino said. "But Chesapeake gets a runner on base be
cause of an error and then they got the base hit to drive her in. That's the mark of a good team."
"We knew we would be in for a tough game with Chesapeake, having everybody back but (shortstop Shannon) Perrone. They beat us three times last year and we just hope that wecan get them next time."