In terms of interest and excitement, it will be nearly impossible totop last year's softball race.
Four teams battled for the county title right down to the last day of the regular season. When it was over, Howard and Centennial tied for the title, with Glenelg and MountHebron tied for second, just a game off the pace.
As the 1992 race takes shape, Centennial and Glenelg appear to bethe class of the league.
Centennial brings the county's best pitcher and best story back to the field in senior Jodi Meitl. She is healthy and throwing well after missing last season with injuries sustained in a car accident. With Meitl and a good group of hitters to support her, the Eagles are the team to beat.
Glenelg, with its blend of speed, defense and savvy, figures to stay on Centennial's heels. Although Howard and Hebron suffered key losses to graduation, they should have enough hitting to hang around and win some key games.
Hammond leads the second division, followed by Atholton, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake, three teams trying to turn around forgettable seasons.Among the three, Atholton appears most ready to achieve respectability.
Here is a closer look at each team:
The Raidersare trying to rebound from their worst season (1-17) under fifth-year coach Dave Vitagliano. Youth figures to hinder the team this year, but Vitagliano thinks better days are ahead.
Junior catcher Amy Mina is drawing the most raves among the youngsters. After moving up tothe varsity at midseason last year, she hit .400. So far during the Raiders' encouraging 3-2 start, she has already hit two triples and thrown out six would-be base stealers.
"She (Mina) is the first player I've had with the potential to play college ball," Vitagliano says. "I really think she's a player to watch this year."
Four more underclassmen will start, beginning with freshman pitcher Kim Ruprecht, the sister of three-year starting shortstop senior Julie Ruprecht. Kim has looked good early, having struck out 10 batters against Catonsville. Freshman Chrissy Gavin will start at third, and sophomores Stacey Williams and Stacie Vollentine will start in the outfield.
"We're young, and we're not good enough that we can make mistakes against good teams and still win," Vitagliano said.
Whatever happens to the Eagles -- and they should have a
great spring -- they already own the season's most compelling story in senior pitcher Jodi Meitl.
Meitl, who dazzled the county with a Player of the Year performance as a freshman, missed last year because of injuries suffered in a car accident. She's been the key factor in the Eagles' 4-0 start, having walked just two batters while striking out 45 in 28innings.
"She (Meitl) is really motivated, and she wants to go out on a high note," said Coach Dale Huting.
Meitl leads a group of seven returning starters that figures to keep the Eagles in contention. Senior right fielder Becky Joeckel (.380, 27 RBI, eight assists last year) is a four-year player who is the best outfielder in the county. Junior Kelli Butler starts at shortstop for the third year. Junior catcher Keri Chichester returns to round out a solid battery. Senior first baseman Rebecca Vanisko and sophomore left fielder Kathy Gallagher also return to start.
If the Eagles have an Achilles' heel, it is in the infield, where sophomore second baseman Jeanine Lee and freshman third baseman Marcia Kunkel are first-year starters.
The Gladiators look like the only team capable of preventing Centennial from winning another county championship. Good pitching, great defense, speed and Chuck Struhar's coaching should keep them in the title hunt.
"We're in good shape. We're not going to kick the ball around, and that's going to keep us in games," said Struhar, who is in his fourth year. "Part of our problem is we don't have enough seniors. We had two or three leaders last year."
The Gladiators still have enough seasoned talent. Senior pitcher Lisa Martin isn't overpowering, but she's a tenacious competitor and an excellent fielder. Senior third baseman Tanissa Dorsey (.471 on-base average, 25 runs, 31 steals, 32 assists, 15 putouts) is the league's best third baseman.Junior Lory Wineman starts at shortstop for the third year and keepsgetting better.
Two sophomore returnees starting for the first time should lend an added boost. Second baseman Karyn Duff gives the Gladiators great defense, and first baseman Jodi Kielman is developing into an imposing hitter.
The Gladiators will have to overcome two question marks to overtake Centennial. First, sophomore catcher RobinRuppalt, a first-year player, replaces All-County graduate Tracy Martin. Second, Dorsey will miss two weeks with a minor foot injury. Howthey survive that six-game stretch without her will dictate where they end up in the county standings.
The Golden Bears have six returning starters, but their season hinges on how well they replace graduated Jen Thomas, an All-County pitcher and designated hitter last year.