Judging by the way she has taken over the pitching duty this spring,it's hard to believe Lindy Mellendick expected to be Centennial HighSchool's second baseman when the softball season began.
Mellendick, you may recall, played second fiddle last year to Jodi Meitl. Meitl had been the county's top hurler the past two seasons and was primed to bedevil the league for a third straight year. That all changed March 1 -- the first day of practice -- when Meitl suffered serious injuries in a car accident and was ruled out for the season.
Centennial coach Dale Huting had no choice but to turn to Mellendick. And, with no back-up pitcher to rely on for help, all Mellendickhas done so far is turn in, well, a Meitl-like season.
Take Wednesday's effort at Mount Hebron. Mellendick retired the first 12 batters she faced, came within a strike of recording her second no-hitter in two weeks, then disposed of one of the county's top-hitting teams with a one-hitter, as Centennial beat the Vikings, 3-0.
Mellendick,a hard-throwing right-hander, walked two, struck out nine, and faced25 batters -- four over the minimum. She didn't surrender her first hit until Linda Colder -- on a 2-2 count with two out in the bottom of the seventh -- fought off a high fastball and blooped an infield single over the head of third baseman Lisa Taneyhill, who was playing in on the grass in anticipation of a bunt.
Mellendick promptly induced Sandy Lewis to ground out to end the tidy, 90-minute game and keep the Eagles (7-3 county, 10-5 overall) very much alive in the county's cluttered title race. With nine days left in the regular season, Hebron, Centennial, Glenelg, Howard and Hammond are separated by a game in the county standings.
"I really didn't think about it (the no-hitter). It kind of dawned on me (after Colder's single). I thought,'Was that the first hit?'" said Mellendick, who retired the Vikings in order through the first four innings and in the sixth, and only allowed three balls to leave the infield.
"I always have problems adjusting to new mounds. I didn't think I was pitching that well today," said Mellendick, who no-hit Atholton, 7-0, on April 22. "I didn't think I'd ever get to pitch this year. It came as a surprise to me. I'm finally getting to the point where I'm comfortable with it."
Thefate of the Eagles is pretty much hanging on Mellendick's right arm,and she has responded by making opposing hitters uncomfortable.
She has pitched all 96 innings of Centennial's season. She has given up just 38 hits, walked 23, and struck out 138. Her ERA is 1.75 and dropping. In five of her last seven outings, Mellendick has given up nomore than one earned run. And through it all, she has reported nothing more than occasional, minor stiffness in her arm.
"Lindy is doing a super job. She's become quite a team leader," said Huting. "She runs indoor track in the winter, so she was in nice physical condition when the season started. She's put in a tremendous amount of work since March 1. She and (catcher) Keri (Chichester) have become a smooth-working team. I think I've been to the mound maybe four times all year."
Huting saw no need to visit Mellendick Wednesday. Her only trouble spots came in the fifth and seventh innings.
In the fifth, she walked Colder and JoAnn Liberto to put herself in a two-on, one-out jam, then cleaned up her own mess by striking out Lewis and Kristen Milio. In the seventh, pitcher Dawn Thomas -- who entered the game with a .722 average and went 0-for-3 -- led off with a wind-blown flyball that left fielder Kathy Gallagher ran down but failed to handle. With two out, Thomas moved to second on Colder's hit. Unruffled, Mellendick got Lewis to end it.
Besides doing an excellent job of exploiting a high strike zone with her fastball, Mellendick also benefited from solid defense, which has become another trademark of the Eagles this spring. Centennial, after struggling in the field behind Meitl last year, has given up just 12 unearned runs in 15 games.
The Eagles are also coming up with timely hits. Four of their six hits Wednesday came in their two scoring innings, and all four came from thebottom half of the batting order.
Julie Parham, the No. 6 hitter,led off the fifth inning with a double, then moved to third on Gallagher's single.
After Thomas wild-pitched a run home, Rebecca Vanisko hit a sharp grounder to Liberto, who made an errant throw to first, allowing Gallagher to trot home with the Eagles' second run. Liberto was making her first start in the field after fracturing a finger against the Eagles three weeks ago.
Centennial added an insurance run in the seventh. Vanisko lined a two-out triple to deep center, then scored on an infield hit by Jen Cichon, the No. 9 hitter.
Hebroncoach Harry Reese was forced to do some major, mid-game juggling, after first baseman Chris Boone left with a 102-degree fever after two innings. By the game's end, seven Vikings were playing out of position.
"We really depend heavily on our starters playing in the right positions," he said. "But we're not going to win many games with one hit, anyway."
Which is where Mellendick came in.