In 20 years of coaching high school softball, Harry Reese has seen his share of outstanding talent. But in his first season at Mount Hebron, Reese may have discovered a player -- senior pitcher Dawn Thomas -- who leaves his past stars in the dust.
"She (Thomas) is probably working on her master's degree in softball," says Reese. "She stepsinto the ball well, she places the ball well, she hasn't missed a sign yet, she has a great slide, she could play any position if she hadto, she has the ability to assess situations perfectly and she's always positive."
When it comes to softball skills, Thomas pretty much has all the bases covered.
She shines the most at home plate, where the strong, stocky senior has aggravated county pitchers for four years with the powerful swings of a baseball player. After winning last year's batting title with a .629 average and a league-best 40 RBI, Thomas is revisiting the same territory.
Through 13 games, her league-leading .657 average and 23 RBI have carried the Vikings (7-2 county, 9-4 overall) into a first-place tie with Glenelg. And with a week left in the regular season, Hebron has its sights realistically set on its first county title in three years.
The Vikings won county and regionalchampionships in 1988, when freshman Thomas greeted the league by hitting .392 -- including a .706 slugging average -- driving in 19 runsand earning second team All-County honors.
For the next two seasons, Hebron floundered in the league's second division, while Thomas was the team's bright spot. She made first team All-County both years as an outfielder with imposing offensive numbers. As a sophomore, Thomas hit .440 with four doubles, three home runs and 18 RBI, before putting together her monster season last year, which included four games with at least five RBI.
Thomas is hitting .525 for her Hebron career and already has 100 RBI. Last week in a 3-0 loss to Centennial, Thomas made big news by going 0-for-3. It was the first time she had been collared this year. That dropped her average below .700 for the first time this season.
Have we mentioned her excellent outfield arm? Her sound base-running instincts? And what about her pitching?
Thomas, who has played softball for the past 10 years, dating back to her days in the Howard County Youth Program, decided to give the mound a try this year.
All Thomas has done is give Hebron 90 strong innings.
She has allowed only 30 hits, walked only 11 batters, posted a 1.70 ERA and pitched three no-hitters.
"In the 20 years I'vecoached I've never seen anyone with her well-rounded ability who is as flexible and team-oriented," says Reese, who coached in the Maryland Scholastic Association and the Catholic League before coming to Hebron this year.
"To have a .650 average and a 1.7 ERA is unbelievable," he says. "She's got the full spectrum of ability. I put her at shortstop for a couple of innings in a game and she backhands a line drive and turns an unassisted double play. It just goes on and on andon."
Thomas, whose ability is complemented by an unfailingly upbeat personality -- she probably leads the team in high-fives too -- downplays her contribution to the Vikings. She also hints that she isn't as comfortable on the mound as she appears.
"I still love the outfield. It's my favorite spot," says Thomas, who will turn 18 next month. "Pitching is an experience. One bad pitch and it can cost you the game. I'm glad our infield (first baseman Chris Boone, second baseman Jen O'Neill, shortstop Angie Kress, third baseman JoAnn Liberto) is great. I think it's one of the best infields in the county."
Hitting came natural to Thomas, who remembers being allowed to practice with her older brother's HCYP baseball team when she was in elementary school.
After several successful years in HCYP's slow-pitch league, she tried fast pitch for the first time at Hebron.
From the beginning of her high school career, Thomas showed obvious, above-average talent. Last summer, she decided to take her ability a competitivenotch higher by playing for Wagner's, a nationally known 18-and-under team from Anne Arundel County.
She started in right field for Wagner's, which qualified for a national tournament last August and expects to be a local powerhouse again this summer. But Thomas' biggestblessing was meeting Wagner coach Paul Tewey, who saw her at a pitching clinic two years ago and encouraged her to pursue the craft seriously.
The two became friends, and have worked on pitching two nights a week since last July. Thomas credits those sessions with her performance for Hebron this year.
"He's the nicest guy, and he knows everything about pitching and the game," says Thomas, who plans to play for Tewey at Catonsville Community College. "I figure I can pitch a couple of years for Paul, then hopefully go to Division I."
And if pitching doesn't work out, it's not as if Thomas is out of options.
"There are very few players I plan on, as far as how to pitch them and how to defend against them. Dawn is one of them," says Howard coach Dave Vezzi.
"She's an excellent player. She had a great arm when she was in the outfield, then she chose to pitch, and she's goodat that.
"If I was starting a team, she would be my first pick. No doubt about it."