This, that and the other:
The county softball season, which got off to its most interesting start in years -- five teams were tied forfirst place two weeks ago -- stayed messy right down to the wire.
After the final regular-season game is played today between Glenelg and Mount Hebron, the league championship could be split three ways.
Centennial and Howard wound up their regular seasons with victories Monday, giving each team a final county record of 11-3. Glenelg's record would be the same with a victory over Hebron.
You think softball is a game of inches? This season was decided by centimeters.
Centennial finished most impressively with an eight-game winning streak, and the Eagles are third-seeded in the Class 3A, Region I semifinals tomorrow (4 p.m.) at Liberty.
But with a few breaks, Centennial could have either been undisputed county champs or non-contenders who missed the playoffs.
Two of Centennial's county losses were back-to-back heartbreakers -- a 5-4 defeat to Mount Hebron that featured a game-saving, diving catch by Hebron right fielder Linda Colder and a 1-0 loss in eight innings at Glenelg.
During their eight-game winning streak, however, the Eagles turned the tables on their competition with back-to-back, one-run victories.
Centennial edged Howard, 6-5, in nine innings -- thanks to a spectacular catch by right fielder Becky Joeckel -- then beat Glenelg four days later, 4-3.
Then there's Howard, which, in a season of unexpected twists, has been the league's most surprising softball team, despite being its youngest.
The Lions start just two seniors, pitcher Andrea Nolan andshortstop Holly Stover.
Four weeks ago, the Lions were 1-2 in thecounty and seemed headed for a respectable season.
Don't look now, but Howard has gone 9-1 since. The Lions wound up the regular season with shutouts over Oakland Mills (10-0) and Hammond (4-0).
Howard's only setback over the past three weeks was that 6-5 decision at Centennial.
But the Lions quickly regrouped, finished fifth-year coach Dave Vezzi's best regular season ever (13-5) and play at top-seeded North Carroll tomorrow (4 p.m.) in the Class 3A Region I semifinals.
"I don't know how he (Vezzi) does it, but he does it. He gets my vote for Coach of the Year," said Hammond coach Dave Guetler.
Howard's success is due mainly to its defense.
The outfield of left fielder Emily Moore (freshman), center fielder Sharon Ford (sophomore) and right fielder Tarah Principato (sophomore) has surpassed Vezzi's expectations. The right side of the infield, first baseman Patty Miller and second baseman Kerri Semmont -- both sophomores -- have beenexcellent.
Semmont, who has played a variety of positions, has made only three errors. She turned four outstanding plays at second base in Howard's 4-0 victory over Hammond on Monday.
"She (Semmont) was the best second baseman I've ever seen today," said Guetler, whoseGolden Bears managed one hit off Nolan. "She dived and just smothered the ball a couple of times. She looked like Billy Ripken. She threwone of my kids out from her knees. She was amazing."
The Lions have complemented their youth nicely with junior third baseman Krista Fulton, Stover and Nolan.
Fulton is hitting .376 with a team-high 20 RBI and playing a solid third base. Stover has anchored shortstop and leads the team with a .405 average and has 19 RBI.
But Nolan has been Howard's unsung hero. For the second straight year, she has thrown every pitch of Howard's season. And for the second straight year, she has thrown the seemingly most hittable pitches, but has frustrated hitters with her constantly changing speeds.
Nolan's ERA is a so-so 3.21, but she has averaged just 2.2 walks per game to go along with her seven strikeouts per outing.
In her last 21 innings, she has just seven hits. Most important, Nolan has forced teams to put the ball in play, and the Howard defense has done its job.
"Defensively, we've been tremendous for the past 10 games," said Coach Vezzi.
And the Lions, after tiptoeing to a share of the county title, have sneaked into the playoffs.
Glenelg looks like a sure bet tomake the Class 2A Region I softball playoffs.
A victory over Hebron guarantees the Gladiators the third seed and would put them at Watkins Mill (Montgomery County) Thursday at 4 p.m. in the regional semifinals.
A loss to Hebron would probably land Glenelg in the fourth-seed position, which would put the Gladiators against top-seeded, heavily favored Damascus -- the team that dumped Glenelg in the regional finals last year.
Meanwhile, Hammond -- which faded from the county title race with two losses last week -- had to beat Hebron yesterday to qualify for the Class 2A Region II playoffs.
And Hebron needed to beat Hammond to assure a playoff berth in the same region.
Glenelg (14-5) owes much of this year's success to speed. The Gladiators had stolen an astounding 184 bases through 19 games before today's Hebron game.
Second baseman Angie Beech and third baseman Tanissa Dorsey alone had accounted for 69 thefts.