Northeast's Stacy Reynolds can't imagine anything less than a Class 2A state championship softball team -- which is understandable, because she's been on three of them.
Reynolds, a senior, is the only returning full-time starter from a 19-3 squad, which won Northeast's fourth straight state crown -- and the seventh in 10 years -- 1-0 over Damascus last year. And for the first time, she'll have to be a leader rather than a follower.
"I just think of how the past players did, and I want to do just as well," said Reynolds, who will be the Eagles' No. 1 hurler and a second baseman this year. "The players are totally different, and we're not even sure what the team's going to look like. But I just feel like I have the chance to show what I can do."
Things are a lot more favorable on the boys' side, where five starters return from last year's 24-0 state champion Eagles, including first-team All-County outfielder Derek Dolch.
Dolch, who batted .420 with 30 RBI, will be joined by second-team All-County catcher Rich Spiegel (.473, 35 RBI), third-team second baseman K. C. Murphy (.420, 30), shortstop Joe Hoyer (.328, 14) and third baseman Chad O'Brien (.463, 15).
Like Reynolds, who was 2-0 on the mound with 20 strikeouts and an 0.00 ERA as abackup to Kristi Zulka (11-2), Dolch played a reserve pitching role,going 4-0 with 28 strikeouts in 24 innings and a 0.58 ERA.
Dolch is the top gun this year, in front of juniors Chris Kelly and Wayne Hudson and sophomore Jason Hohman, who are up from last year's 15-2 junior varsity squad.
"Before the season started, the pitching seemed kind of slim. It just didn't seem like there was anybody coming back," said Dolch, who was an understudy for first-teamer Charlie Buckheit (a county-record 30 career victories) and Player of the Year CraigEverett.
"I had my doubts in the the beginning, but now I feel a lot less pressure," said Dolch, part of a program that has gone 40-0 against the county the past two seasons. "So far, Hohman looks like the No. 2 pitcher, but Hudson throws strikes. Kelly throws the hardest, but needs to get his control down."
O'Brien said, "Pitching's still our weakness, but I think it can be supported by our hitting. Thefirst four batters are me, Hoyer, Spiegel and Dolch. Just like last year, whenever the pitcher gets behind, we feel like between the fourof us we should get at least a run every time."
Supporting Reynolds on the softball team will be a trio of part-time starters from last year, including utility player Rae Ann Detrey, Shannon McCaugey (third base, shortstop) and Jen Vickery (first base, outfield, catcher).The reserve hurlers are sophomore Loren Bailey and freshman Beth Benner.
Reynolds vividly recalls scoring the lone run 10 months ago in the win over Damascus. She faced the Hornets' flame-thrower Marci Whitehead, who entered the game unbeaten at 18-0, with a national-record 15 no-hitters, four perfect games and a 0.00 ERA.
"I was scaredto even get up to bat," said Reynolds, who drew a walk to lead off the first inning, then watched the next two batters strike out.
A Kelly Tibbs double off a 3-2 pitch drove in Reynolds for her team-leading 27th run of the year. Reynolds also led the team in base hits (21) and steals (12) and ranked third on last year's team with a .339 batting average.
"Last year is still a major motivation for me, and I hope that we can get back there," said Reynolds.
"Getting back there," however, would mean facing Whitehead before the final four, asDamascus is now a member of the Eagles' Region II.
"I'll still benervous if I see (Whitehead) again," said Reynolds.