Northeast's 58-game winning streak in softball is no big deal to ace pitcher Kristy Zulka.
Before she takes the mound Wednesday (3:30 p.m.) at Upton Park against Archbishop Spalding's fastballing Kim Sheridan, Zulka said the streak will not be on her mind.
"You always want to win every time you go out on the field," she said. "I'll just go out as usual and try to do my best."
For the Eagles' senior righthander, her best borders on perfection each time she pitches. She hurled a perfect game for five innings last week before allowing the lone hit in a 5-0 win over Centennial. Against Oakland Mills, in a 19-0 rout, she spoiled her four innings of no-hit ball, hitting a batter. In 11 innings this season, she has struck out 21 batters.
These numbers are routine for Zulka, who went 17-0 last season with an 0.22 earned run average. In 128 innings she struck out 177 and walked only 11. She even tossed a perfect game among her 11 shutouts.
And the streak grew and grew. At 58, it's the fifth longest ever by a high school team and No. 1 looks so far ahead -- Vandebilt Catholic (La.) won 112 straight from 1980-83 -- Zulka would be a junior in college by the time the Eagles could begin to threaten it.
Streak aside, Zulka predicted a long season. For one thing, she said she lost confidence over the winter and, thus far, her first two outings have been a bit of a mental struggle.
That's no wonder, considering what she has endured since injuring her left knee last August when she attempted to score by hurdling the catcher. She landed on the left knee and had to have surgery.
Briefly, a college scholarship seemed lost, thoughts of that scholarship motivated her through five months of therapy.
" 'I can do it for college' was the thought that came to mind before every therapy session I went to," she said. It paid off, as Zulka has given an oral commitment to accept a full ride to Campbell University in North Carolina.
Hours and hours of whirlpools, flexing, stretching, and lifting weights got her back in time for the end of the basketball season, albeit with a brace strapped on her left knee. When there was time, she began throwing a softball indoors. It all added up to a hard-earned comeback, so losing a little confidence along the way was understandable.
"It took some getting used to, wearing a brace on the left knee," said Zulka. "Before, I always wore a brace on the right knee and my [windmill arm] motion would cause my hand to strike the brace on every pitch. Now, even though I wear a pad there [on the right thigh], my hand still strikes my right leg and I come home with all kinds of bruises."
Zulka throws five different pitches, each skillfully crafted under the tutelage of Anne Arundel County softball guru, Jack Crandell. Spalding's Sheridan also has worked out under Crandell.
"I just hope they both pitch no-hitters," said Crandell, referring to Wednesday's non-league matchup. He said both Zulka and Sheridan are throwing right around 60 mph.
"The key seems to be right around 57 mph," he said. "If you keep the ball above 57, it's very difficult to hit. When the speed drops below 57, it's a bit easier to hit."
Zulka said she doesn't worry about the speed, or even whether she strikes out a batter or not.
"I try to strike them out, but I've got a good defense backing me up," she said.
That defense would include shortstop Stephanie Lazor, who also injured her knee hurdling a catcher last year.
"That's something I wish I never learned how to do from Stephanie," said Zulka.
That goes double for Northeast coach Lynn Pitonzo.
"We definitely don't need any more knee injuries," said Pitonzo, who has guided the Eagles to three straight state Class 2A championships.