The county's high school softball season gave the people what they wanted.
You want competition? This spring provided fans with arguably the most competitive season in county history. Centennial and Howard ended up with 11-3 records to share the league title. They were followed closely by Glenelg and Mount Hebron, who tied for second placejust one game off the pace.
You want excitement? Eight games played among the county's top four teams were decided by one or two runs.
Two of those games came down to game-saving, final-out catches in right field.
Mount Hebron's Linda Colder preserved the Vikings' 5-4 victory over Centennial with a sprawling grab on April 15.
Three weeks later, Centennial's Becky Joeckel did the same thing to Howard to save the Eagles in an extra-inning, 6-5 victory.
You want great stories? How about Lindy Mellendick, pressed into service when Centennial All-County pitcher Jodi Meitl was lost for the season after a serious car accident in March?
All Mellendick did was lead the Eagles to a championship.
Or how about Dawn Thomas -- maybe the greatest high school softball hitter the county has ever seen? Her two-out, two-run homer gave Hebrona 5-4 victory over Glenelg on the last day of the regular season andput the Vikings in the playoffs, and eventually in the 2A state tournament.
Or how about Howard, a team dominated by unknown underclassmen? After losing two of their first three league games, the Lions went 10-1 and nearly won the county championship outright.
All thatstood between Howard and a 12-game winning streak and undisputed county crown was Joeckel's aforementioned heroics.
The Howard County Sun's All-County first team reflects the competitive nature of the season.
Glenelg leads the first team with four selections, followed by Howard and Centennial, which place two players apiece.
Dawn Thomas represents Hebron, while Hammond's Jennifer Thomas -- who kept the Bears in the county title hunt -- was also a first-team selection.
Here is the first-team:
Centennial's Lindy Mellendick rescued the Eagles for half a season last year, while Jodi Meitl was recovering from an illness. This year, the Eagles needed her to come through for a full season after Meitl suffered serious injuries in a March 1 car accident. Mellendick answered the call with a terrific spring.
The Eagles went 15-6, thanks largely to Mellendick (14-6).She pitched 145 innings, gave up just 57 hits, and walked only 33 while recording 181 strikeouts -- second-highest in school history behind Meitl -- and a 1.69 ERA. Mellendick's highlights included no-hitting Atholton, 7-0, and a one-hit, 3-0 victory over Hebron. That sent the Eagles on an eight-game winning streak and a share of the county title.
Glenelg senior Tracy Martin was a steadying influence in the batter's box and behind the plate. She hit .425, and her school-record 21 walks gave her a .625 on-base average. She also scored 18 runs, drove in 10 and collected 21 stolen bases.
Then there was Martin's defense. Besides smothering countless pitches in the dirt, she threw out 18 would-be base stealers.
"After a period of time, people just wouldn't run on her," said Glenelg coach Chuck Struhar, whose Gladiators went 14-7. "We won a few games without Angie (Beech). We probably could have won a few without Shannon (McCartney). ButTracy gave us the stability we needed."
Oakland Mills senior first baseman Jennifer Smith was the bright spot on the Scorpions' disappointing 5-13 team.
Smith hit .321 with four doubles,a homer and 16 RBI. Defensively, she committed just five errors in 166 chances, while recording 150 putouts.
Glenelg senior second baseman Angie Beech has been here before. Last year's co-Player of the Year turned in another outstanding season in all phases of the game.
Offensively, Beech was up to her old tricks. She led the team in batting average (.545), on-base average (.640) and led the league with 41 steals. She scored 28 runs (second on team) and contributed 11 RBIfrom her leadoff spot. And she played nearly flawless defense again,committing only one error in 65 chances. Beech made two errors in three seasons.
Howard senior shortstop Holly Stover led the Lions with a .405 batting average, thanks to a team-high 30 hits in 19 games,inPlease see SOFTBALL, Page 14SOFTBALLContinued from Page 12cluding four doubles and two triples. She also scored 18 runs and had 17 RBI.Defensively, Stover collected 38 assists, 18 putouts and made only six errors at the field's toughest position.
"She doesn't make the spectacular plays, but when the ball is hit to her, you're confident she is going to make the play," said Howard coach Dave Vezzi. "I'd take Holly over anybody in terms of her consistency."