While the skies above were a cloudless blue yesterday, on the groundbelow a softball firestorm was brewing.
It involved the much-anticipated battle between the county's top two fireballers -- Northeast's Kristy Zulka against Archbishop Spalding's Kim Sheridan.
Each right-hander has been clocked throwing pitches at speeds faster than that allowed by cars on the Baltimore Beltway.
Their armsspun, churning the ball loose and sending it hurtling toward batters. In the game, they allowed just five hits and two walks against 12 strikeouts between them -- despite the fact that the game started nearly 40 minutes after they had warmed up because the field had no pitching rubber.
But thanks to Heather Isaac's two-out, first-pitch RBIsingle in the third inning, Zulka came away with her third straight shutout victory, 1-0, and the three-time defending Class 2A state champion Eagles (3-0) increased their winning streak to 59 games under fourth-year coach Lynn Pitonzo.
The streak is the fifth-longest nationwide by a high school softball team.
"I had confidence and everything going into the game, but I was still nervous, so it felt really good after it was over," said Zulka, who has 22 strikeouts this season -- four against Spalding -- and has not allowed a walk so far. She allowed two singles against the Cavaliers (4-1).
Even so, the defending Baltimore Catholic League champion Cavaliers failed on their best chance to score in the bottom of the fifth inning with one out and runners Michelle Chin and Carrie Lycett on second and third base,respectively.
Northeast first baseman Melissa Scarborough (nine put-outs, two fly balls) caught Kelly Mabe's hard liner on the first-base line and Zulka (four put-outs) fielded a grounder by Rachel Synowski to escape the inning.
"Their first baseman pulled a number of balls off of the ground and then had that great play. Northeast played great defense when they had to," said Spalding coach Jim Nemeth, whose Cavaliers lost to the Eagles by the same score in extra innings last year.
"We made good contact against a great pitcher, but they fielded the rest of the stuff. They're just a great team."
Sheridan,a junior, was coming off of her fourth straight shutout -- a 2-0 victory over defending Class 4A state champion Chesapeake.
She fannedeight batters against just three hits against Northeast. Her two walks were the first she has given up this year.
But Sheridan, the third batter to face Zulka in the game, also became Zulka's first strike-out victim.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't even know it was her," said Zulka, The Anne Arundel County Sun's 1990 Player of the Yearwhen she went 17-0 with a 0.22 ERA, 177 strikeouts in 128 innings and 11 walks.
This year, she has two wins over Howard County opponents Centennial (a 5-0, one-hit win) and Oakland Mills (19-0, a no-hitter). The senior has committed verbally to North Carolina's Campbell University.
Like Zulka, Sheridan had not allowed a walk all season for the Cavaliers. Last year she whiffed 190 batters for a 15-3 record and an 0.56 ERA. She allowed just two hits and had 11 strikeouts against Chesapeake on Monday.
The Eagles, however, were ready for her.
"Thursday, Monday and Tuesday the kids worked real well. We hadthe (pitching machine) turned all the way up and about 30 feet from home plate," said Pitonzo. "We figured that she was quick and that was the only way we were going to (win the game). They did real well."
Sheridan said, "I wasn't really happy with my performance today. Iwas ready to play the game, but I was overthrowing and didn't feel on top of my game.
"We knew going in that they were a good hitting team and we went over every batter -- talking about where they would try to hit the ball. But they don't have any weak batters and that's why they're No. 1 in the state."