Few people would have figured North Carroll softball team to be struggling, but that's just what happened to the Panthers last week as they dropped two in a row to Frederick County teams.
The two losses left the Panthers at 1-2 in the Central Maryland Conference, though the squad entered the week at 5-0 in the county and 7-3 overall.
With nine starters back from a team that won the state Class 3A title last year, the county, CMC and regional titles seemed a foregoneconclusion.
And while the county title still seems a pretty sure bet, the conference crown is in serious jeopardy, as is top seed for the regional playoffs.
North Carroll could move up in the CMC and regional standings with a good showing this week, culminating in Thursday's 4 p.m. game against Westminster in Hampstead.
Also important was yesterday's scheduled game against Liberty (after press time).
Westminster started the week as the second-place team in the county with a 2-2 record (5-6 overall), led by the big bat of Karen Walker, who has four homers, three triples and 14 runs batted in, all at ornear the top of the county standings.
Another Thursday game with perhaps even more impact on the CMC standings is the Frederick at Liberty contest (also 4 p.m.).
The Liberty Lions started the week with a 3-2 CMC record (though just 1-3 in county games and 8-3 overall),while Frederick was 2-1 in the conference and 6-3 overall.
Liberty is paced on the mound by Brenda Timko (6-3 record) and at the plateby Cindy Leeds (hitting more than .400).
In other sports this week:
* Two county boys lacrosse teams battle ranked teams Thursday.
In Eldersburg, Liberty plays host to Catonsville of Baltimore County (6 p.m. jayvee, 7:30 varsity). The Comets were ranked 15th in the metro area with a 4-1 record by The Evening Sun.
Westminster, meanwhile, travels to Bel Air to meet C. Milton Wright of Harford County (5:15 jayvee, 6:45 varsity), ranked 16th in that same poll with a 9-0record. The surprising Mustangs, with just four seniors from last year's 7-7 team, are led by the high-scoring duo of Chris Lloyd and Brian Moen, while goalie Andy Wishart probably is Harford's best.
* The rematch of the county's top two girls lacrosse teams will be Thursday night when Liberty visits North Carroll (5:30 and 7). The two squads had a nip-and-tuck contest last week before Liberty finally earned an 11-9 victory. The key for the Lions was holding Bridget Harris, the county's leading scorer, to just three goals.
A little luster was taken off the game on Monday when Westminster upset North Carroll, 7-6.
At the same time in Westminster, South Carroll will battle Westminster. South Carroll has lost five in a row after opening the season with five victories.
* Francis Scott Key will be looking to defend its boys track title in the Monocacy Valley Athletic Meet, butit'll have to withstand a strong challenge from Middletown of Frederick County to do it. The meet is at 4 p.m. Friday at Catoctin High in Frederick County.
Key defeated Middletown earlier this year in adual meet without the services of hurdler/sprinter Kirk Lindsay, though Eagles' Coach John Seaman said the Knights were without several important performers too. Seaman said the best matchups between the favored teams should be in the 400- and 800-meter runs.
The Eagles should do especially well in the jumps, distance races and short relays.
Key's girls won't be among the favorites, Seaman said, but should do well in the sprint relays and the 200 run, with Dani Deeds leading the way.
* In boys tennis, the 7-1 Liberty Lions battle Frederick, 6-3, in a 4 p.m. CMC match Thursday in Eldersburg. Rob Hobson leads the Lions in singles with an 8-1 record. Teammate Greg Phelps is 5-2.
Liberty also has three outstanding boys doubles teams that started the week with just one loss each.
* The most notable high school baseball game is the Westminster at North Carroll game Thursday at 4 p.m.
The Panthers have made notable strides on the diamond this year with a 4-6 overall record after going winless last year. But none of those wins are in county action, where North Carroll started the week with an 0-4 record.
Chad Sholter and Dave Polischeck havepaced the Panthers offensively, while Jim Whitney has been the moundace.
* The South Penn League season opens this weekend and the Taneytown Cardinals start the season at home Sunday with a 2 p.m. game against New Oxford (Pa.) at Memorial Park.