North Carroll teams are making an early splash in the Carroll CountyFootball League.
Two teams are battling for first place in their respective age divisions in the youth league, which is made up of four teams from Carroll and three from Baltimore County.
The Panthers' B team, for primarily 11- and 12-year-olds, is tiedwith Reisterstown for that division lead with a 4-0 record.
The only unbeaten Carroll team after a month of play, the Panther B's havean early season showdown with Reisterstown on Saturday at Hannah More School in Reisterstown.
"That will be the biggest game of the season," said Coach Rob Martin.
Last season, his team had no big games, except prehaps for the final one, which put a merciful end to an 0-9 campaign.
But this season the squad has benefited from an influx of players from the North Carroll C team, which has won two consecutive titles and the 1989 super bowl, going 20-1 in the process.
"We have a good group of kids, we stress discipline and the kids have responded well and played well," Martin said.
The Panther C squad has also started with a solid 3-1 record, despite having only a half dozen returnees from last year.
Its sole blemish is a 7-0 loss to Westminster.
"So, far, they're doing a little better than I thought they'd do," said C coach John Etzel.
This has happened even though, in that fast-growing northeastern corner of the county, "We stillhaven't got a lot of kids signing up," Etzel said.
The three North Carroll entrants in the league combine for only about 80 players.
The opposition often has more.
"We played Arbutus early in the season and they had 40 players. It looked like we were playing Oklahoma," laughed Etzel, whose team numbers but 24.
He credited his assistants for much of the team's success.
The team also faces a toughtest against Reisterstown on Saturday.
A good softball team might have to face three or four other quality squads during its league season. But all the games are tough when a team plays in a regional tournament.
Unlike a league or state tourney, where teams can often register to play regardless of talent, it's different in higher places.
"Everybody in a regional tournament had to win something toget there," said Cliff Yeager, who manages the Griffith Auto Park entrant in the South Carroll Athletic Association.
Griffth played inthe U.S. Slow-Pitch Softball Association's men's Class D regional over the Labor Day weekend.
Yeager said only the top three teams in the eight-team SCAA could match the regional field in talent. He added that prehaps only the top 10 teams in the 100-plus field in the USSSA D states would match up at the regional level.
The main difference was hitting.
"They're all good hitters," he said. "You can't let up against the lower end of the lineup."
But Yeager added that,regardless of the competition, a team entering the regional fray will stumble if it tries to match the style of their opponents.
"If you're a singles-hitting team, stay with that even if the other team'spounding the ball. Stay with what got you there," he said.
And, even though over-the-fence home runs are prohibited in USSSA regional competition, he said some teams were such good-hitting squads that they should have played at a higher classification.
Random House, which plays in the Carroll County Men's League's A division, appeared in Amateur Softball Association and National Softball Association regional class D tournaments.
"I'd say it was better than the A division (of the Carroll County Men's League) except for, maybe three teams," said Random House Manager Jerry Zentz.
"They're good at every position in regional tournaments. All of them are good ballplayers," he added.
The county teams nevertheless won nine of 13 games in thetwo tourneys. They lost only to the top two finishers in each one.
"I think we were as good as they were, but they played a little better," Zentz said.
He credited top Men's League teams such as Lehigh-Stambaugh and Harrell's for toughening his squad for the regionals.