By the end of the year, Glen Burnie softball coach Bob Broccolino figures his team should be fighting for the last playoff spot in Class 4A.
It's what the Gophers do over the course of the season that has the veteran coach a little worried.
"It's going to be very, very up and down because of the inexperience," he said, noting the loss of most of his infield, including his starting pitcher and catcher, to graduation.
"I think, realistically, it's going to be between us, Arundel and Severna Park for the last playoff spot, plus Queen Anne's or whoever else is in our region this year."
The fact that Broccolino still believes his team will bein contention says much about the few remaining veterans, most notably shortstop Heather Smith and center fielder Erin Sutton.
Smith, who stroked the game-winning hit in the 16th inning that ended Northeast's winning streak at 64 last season, batted .368 and played well defensively. Sutton hit a robust .440 with 19 steals and made first-team All-County.
"I don't think there's a better center fielder or shortstop in the state than Sutton and Smith. They're just tremendous players and team leaders," Broccolino said.
With pitcher Mandy Albrecht (10-4, 0.53 ERA), a second-team All-County selection, having left for Towson State University, senior Stacey Jordan will switch fromthe outfield to the mound.
She'll get a late start, however, after suffering a mild shoulder injury during practice.
"This year, wedon't have any choice," Broccolino said of Jordan's full-time conversion to pitcher. She didn't allow a run in two appearances last year,and also filled in at catcher.
"She's been going to clinics in preparation. She's not as quick as Mandy, but she has good movement on the ball," Broccolino said. "I'm not looking for strikeouts, just notletting them have too many good swings."
The Gophers lost some needed experience when Michelle Hammerbacher, a versatile reserve, elected not to come out for the team. But senior Carrie Lippert hit .367 in 30 at-bats last season and should thrive with more playing time. She joins seniors Janine King, a reserve catcher last year, and Dora Taylor, who moves from right to left field.
"Our inexperience is going to show at times, but they're willing to work hard and they're a nice group of kids," Broccolino said. "I can't think of anybody who has a 'me-first-team-second' attitude."
The Glen Burnie baseball team's pitching staff received a shot in the arm with the transfer of lefty Tony Saunders from Howard High. "Tony has been a definite find for us," said Glen Burnie coach Bruce Sider. "He's got a good mix of speeds and he can throw pretty hard."
Saunders, who attended Glen Burnie as a sophomore, will see most of the innings, but the Gophers also boast seniors Shane Cavey and Justin Slade and juniors Ed Nalley and Keith Volkman. Sider also is taking a long look at freshman Jay Sponaugle.
When they're not pitching, Cavey will play shortstop, Slade first base, and Saunders, Nalley and Volkman the outfield. Other potential outfielders include seniors Shawn Chester and Mike Bush andjuniors Todd Locklear, Brian Pierce and Jerry Poist.
Junior Robert Rogers will start at third base after knocking in 12 runs last year. DeMatha transfer Mike Mahaney, a senior, will serve in a utility role, while senior Jason Soistman returns behind the plate.
"Overall, we're pretty solid in pitching and our infield," Sider said. "We'revery strong up the middle with second baseman David Lanham (.383, 13steals) and Shane Cavey, but I'm still not comfortable with the outfield."