Defending state softball champions Chesapeake (4A), Northeast (2A) and 1A champ Brooklyn Park (now North County) all have one thing in common this season.
And it's not something about which they're particularly proud.
These three powerhouses all have fallen victim to an upset-mindedGlen Burnie contingent -- a squad that went 13-5 last year and was bounced out of the 1990 Class 4A Region IV playoffs by the eventual titlists, 8-1.
"I really didn't expect things to go this well," saidGophers coach Bob Broccolino. "With the new alignment (the addition of the 4A Friendship and Bay divisions), plus having La Plata (Charles County) sneak in every year, I knew it wouldn't be an easy year."
Talk about understatements, Glen Burnie claims a 12-2 record (6-1, best in the division) while taking on the likes of playoff contendersChesapeake, North County, Severna Park and Old Mill.
That's not to mention its legendary come-from-behind 16-inning 4-3 upset of Northeast -- ending the nation's fourth-longest winning streak at 64 games.
"You know, we've been preaching to them all year that we can beat anybody in the county," said Broccolino. "Just tying the game against Northeast boosted these girls an extra notch.
"We were down 3-0in the third or fourth inning, and we could have easily folded in the tents, but we still came back and won it. They really started believing in themselves at that point.
"These kids have so much heart and desire, and they're such a great bunch. They do anything (assistant coach) Don Dzambo or I ask them to."
A prime example of this attitude was the dilemma that faced the Gophers before the Northeast game. Starting catcher Lee Mallonee's strained back caused her to miss aweek's worth of action. Broccolino was forced to play musical chairswith his starting lineup.
"Against Northeast, Lee was out with a strained back, so the day before the game, I asked Melanie Scharf if she would mind moving from third to catcher, and she had an injured toe at the time," Broccolino said.
"Not only that, but it was the first time in her career that she played behind the plate. She caught all 16 innings in a pressure-packed game. Then, I had to move MichelleAckerman, who's an All-County second baseman, to third, and put (outfielder) Michelle Hammerbacher at second. That shows you our versatility."
The Northeast victory was sandwiched between two other grudge matches for the 1989 state champs.
After losing to North County,5-3, on April 5, the Gophers returned the favor with a vengeance less than three weeks later, blanking the Knights, 4-0.
Last Thursday, Broccolino's charges avenged a March 26 defeat, 3-0, by nipping Chesapeake, 1-0, with pitcher Mandy Albrecht firing a three-hitter. Thusfar, the senior hurler sports a 8-2 record, without the benefit of ablazing fastball or the help of Jen Schmittle, who had transferred to Old Mill.
"It would have been nice to have Jen around this year," said Broccolino. "I could have rotated her with Mandy and Melanie. It was a big blow to me when I found out that her dad was moving to the Old Mill area. She's a good pitcher, a very good hitter, and a smart base runner. I think the fact that she plays for our archrivals will make us play that much harder against them."
The Patriots play host to Glen Burnie today at 3:45. The Gophers were victorious, 5-1, in their April 3 game.
"But Mandy and Melanie have been holding uptremendously. Mandy's not spectacular, but it's like you look up at the scoreboard at the end of the game, and you say, 'She only allowedthree hits against a team like Chesapeake?' " Broccolino said.
"She allowed eight hits in 16 innings in the game against Northeast, and four hits in the second game against North County, and they've got a good-hitting team. They can really put the bat on the ball.
"Youknow, you have pitchers out here like (North County's) Karen Hay who throw 62 mph fastballs, then throw change-ups that twist people into the ground. But Mandy's just going out there and getting people out. It's really nice to see that people are starting to realize how good of a pitcher she really is."
Broccolino was equally impressed with Scharf, who carries an 0.33 earned run average and a 3-0 record asa reliever.
"Mandy and Melanie have the same style, but she isn'tas fast as Mandy is, but she gets the job done."
"Melanie has more pitches than Mandy, but Mandy has more movement," said Mallonee of Scharf, who may miss today's game because of the flu.
Glen Burnie's solid core of veterans features Mallonee, Scharf (third base), Albrecht, Hammerbacher (second base), Ackerman (two home runs, 24 RBI, .492 average through Wednesday), Christy Hutson (first base, 13 RBI, .977 fielding percentage), center fielder Erin Sutton (11 stolen bases)and shortstop Heather Smith (.404, 16 RBI).