Northeast softball coach Lynn Pitonzo didn't stick around for the second game of Tuesday's 2A state semifinals at Upton Park.
She didn't have to, not with her three assistant coaches on hand and the reputation of her future opponent the worst-kept secret running.
Pitonzo's second-seeded Eagles (18-3) meet No. 1 Damascus of Montgomery County in tomorrow's 6 p.m. finals. At 8 p.m., No. 2 Chesapeake (19-3) looks to repeat as 4A champion against No. 4 Frederick.
ANortheast victory tomorrow assures the Eagles a fourth-straight state title and seventh in the last 10 years.
This one won't come easily, though, not with junior Marci Whitehead on the scene.
Damascusrode the overpowering pitching of Whitehead to an 18-0 record going into Tuesday's semifinal against Mount Hebron, a game the Hornets woneasily, 14-0. Whitehead only allowed one hit and struck out 17 batters, including the final 11.
The Vikings helped Whitehead by continually chasing her rising fastball, a nearly unhittable pitch that sails out of the strike zone. But Pitonzo expects her team to exhibit more patience at the plate.
"The ball's a foot over the batter's heads by the time it gets to them," Pitonzo said.
Whitehead (18-0), whose velocity rivals that of Anne Arundel's better hurlers, has thrown a national-record 15 no-hitters and four perfect games this season.She's struck out 238 and hasn't allowed an earned run in 108 innings.
Still, she may not be the best pitcher on the mound tomorrow.
While Northeast's Kristy Zulka (10-2) must wear braces on both kneesdue to injuries over the past couple of years, she appears fully recovered from her mild late-season slump.
The senior windmiller hasn't allowed a run in three playoff games, throwing five hitless innings Tuesday in a 15-1 rout of third-seeded Stephen Decatur of WorcesterCounty.
How close is Zulka to her dominating form of last season,when she went 17-0 with 11 shutouts and a 0.22 ERA in being named the Anne Arundel County Sun's Player of the Year?
"If she's not there, she's real close," Pitonzo said.
"I think she's a little more confident now than she was earlier this year. She had to prove to herself that she was all right. Hopefully, the regionals and (Tuesday's) game helped that."
Zulka wasn't satisfied with her curveball, but such a gripe is equivalent to a golfer achieving a hole-in-one and complaining about the size of the divot.
"She said she didn't feel she was getting the ball exactly where she wanted, but she certainly was effective enough," Pitonzo said.
"Her curve was working great in the first two innings, then all of a sudden it didn't. I don't knowwhat caused that. I kept calling the pitch, but it wasn't going where it should have been and I don't want her to get frustrated."
TheEagles' offense, which also went through a rough period during the season, is back to frustrating opposing pitchers.
Senior Tammy Kuebel is batting over .400 with 10 RBI, and six other Eagles are hittingabove .300, including junior Stacy Reynolds at .357 with 26 runs scored.
Zulka was batting .450 when an April 17 injury to her right knee forced her out of the lineup.
"Damascus is a good ballclub andthe game will probably come down to mental errors, which is what you'd figure," Pitonzo said.
The greatest factor working in Chesapeake's favor Tuesday was senior pitcher Amy Jakubowski, whose no-hitter and 4-for-4 performance at the plate led the Cougars past third-seeded Springbrook of Montgomery County, 11-0.
Jakubowski has thrown two no-hitters and one perfect game this season. She came within one out of throwing another perfect game in a 4-0 victory over Old Mill in the 4A Region IV semifinals.
Is there a better overall softball player in the county than Jakubowski, who is 9-2 with a 0.33 ERA and isbatting a team-leading .507? Cougars coach Dennis Thiele doesn't believe so.
"She's always had a real good bat, and she's been a good pitcher. With the staff we've had the last few years, I had to bring her along slowly while she paid her dues. Now, she's come into her own. I just let her go and do her thing," he said.
Tomorrow, she'll be doing it against a Frederick team (14-5) that upset top-seeded Oxon Hill, 11-1, Tuesday.
"I heard they're supposed to be a pretty decent team," Thiele said. "They're really revamping their program and coming on strong with softball. In the future, that could provide some competition for Anne Arundel County softball. Frederick may be pointing in that direction."
Not that Thiele expects the Cadets to unseat Chesapeake as state champion. "I'm pretty confident in this team.We're probably the hottest softball team going. And, knock on wood, I hope it stays that way for one more game," he said.
"The kids are up. They're fine-tuned. They're peaking right now. It will take a heck of an effort from Frederick to stop us."
The Cadets will send pitcher Terri Summers against a Chesapeake lineup whose Nos. 2 through 4 batters -- junior Becky Thiele (.500), Jakubowski and senior Stacey Grokas (.459) -- rank among the leading hitters in the county.
"They have a pitcher who can bring the ball. I wouldn't say she pitches as well as our top-notch pitchers in the county, but she would be on the second level," Thiele said.
The lower portion of Chesapeake's order also is loaded, with the likes of junior Kristen Spak (.386), freshman Jaime Long (.330), and sophomores Nancy Yeager (.310) and Tracy Starke (.300).
The Cougars are making their fourth appearance in the states in the last five years. They won the title in 1988 and 1990, as county teams have won the last five 4A state championships.