The level of competition has been high in Carroll County softball for the last few years, and the 1992 season is no exception.
Most ofthe Carroll teams look to be as good as last year's teams or better.
Four of the area high school teams saw postseason play last year with North Carroll the standout, winning all the marbles in Class 3A.
The Panthers last year won their second consecutive state title and the sixth in the school's history they took home the top trophy. It is no small wonder that the rest of the county and much of the state talk about the Panthers with a sense of awe.
North Carroll (19-4overall, 9-3 in the Central Maryland Conference) is the Goliath in county softball this season, but there are plenty of Davids looking tounseat the Panthers.
Liberty tied with North Carroll and Frederick for the Central Maryland Conference last year, and Westminster defeated the Panthers 1-0 in the last game of the season.
Francis Scott Key Eagles
Francis Scott Key is one of three county teams to advance to the playoffs last year. Key (14-7, 12-6) is defending Class 1A Region II champ and has the stuff to return.
The Eagles went to the state semifinals last year before being defeated by North Caroline.
Coach Joe Linthicum hopes to repeat last year's success and then some.
"I'm pretty optimistic," said Linthicum. "We have six girls that went to the playoffs last year, and hopefully we can use that leadership to guide us back."
The Eagles have pitcher Cathi Bower (13-7) returning with outfielders Lori Woodson and Suzi Small, shortstop Erin Murphy, first baseman Wendy Galandak and catcher Shelley Smith.
Key had one of the stingiest defenses in the county, holding opponents to less than five runs per game for the last 15 games. This season the defense might be tighter.
In addition to top ace Bower,Amber Smith now joins the varsity pitching ranks with some experience from last year.
But hitting might be a weak spot for the Eagles in 1992.
"We need to improve on what we did last year in hitting,"said Linthicum.
If the bats improve as Linthicum hopes, Key will be a force to reckoned with.
Liberty (14-5) tied the Panthers for second in the CMC and lost in the first round of theplayoffs last year, but return eight players.
Pitching is the strong point for Liberty, with senior Brenda Timko (13-5) back on the mound.
The Lions have come a long way under coach Dale Green's leadership, from a winless team in 1989 to CMC contenders. It could be a long, fierce battle between the Lions and Panthers.
"We have skilled and experienced players coming back, and we should do well as long as we play together as a team," said Green.
Joining Timko as returners are center fielder Amy Wolff, second baseman Kari Myers, outfielders Michelle Smith and Laura Rivera, first baseman Darlene Marsiglia, shortstop Kelly Cathy and pitcher/infielder Andrea Dixon.
If experience is the strong point for the Lions, then hitting is the weakness.
Cindy Leeds, one of the best hitters for Liberty last year, graduated. The Lions hope to have an effective lineup with Wolff, Cathyand Smith, but Coach Green wants to improve on last year's mark.
"We are working on improving our skills in hitting," said Green.
Liberty is not as devastated with the graduation of a large number of seniors as North Carroll, so the battle for Class 2A Region I crown should make for an interesting spring.
North Carroll Panthers
North Carroll is not invincible, but is still the powerhouse of county softball.
While the Panthers are a contender in county, region andstate play, they are untried in Class 2A, where Northeast of Anne Arundel County has reigned recently.
As far as being a "three-peat" team, North Carroll coach Phil Bonell said, "We need a little bit of luck to go along with our talent."
The talent for the Panthers areinfielders: Vickie Jackson, Tina Martin, Sherri Martin, Shelly Woodburn and Mendy Tawes.
The "luck" remains to be seen, but with several key players graduating, including pitcher Michelle Ament, it wouldn't hurt for Coach Bonell to have a rabbit's foot somewhere in his game plan.
The Panthers still have a well-balanced attack and an experienced defense. The uncertainty is lack of pitching experience for Jenni Heindel and Michelle Jeffery.
"I think our team faces what most teams face," said Bonell. "Heindel and Jeffery lack experience. They both are consistently in the strike zone and will get the ball inplay."
South Carroll Cavaliers
Speed will be in fashion for the Cavaliers.
"We have more speed than the last couple of years," said South Carroll coach Debbie Barnes. "We are going to be aggressiveon base-running."
The Cavaliers will have to be aggressive on thebases after losing last season's entire infield to graduation.
South Carroll returns only five from last year's team, including outfielder Liz Masterson. Outfielder won't be the only role for Masterson this season, as she will be on the mound as well.