Bob Broccolino could see it coming.
Jen Schmittle was only a sophomore at Glen Burnie High two years ago, but as sure as Edmund Halleypredicted a comet would streak across the galaxy every 76 years, theGophers' coach predicted her meteoric rise in softball.
"I saw the makings of a star," he said.
A year later, that shooting star landed at Old Mill, where she hurled her way to eight victories with 108 strikeouts and an 0.98 ERA. She also became a first-team All-Metro selection as an outfielder.
Now as a senior, Schmittle is the hottest thing going on the softball diamond.
Over a six-day period and four games last week, the 17-year-old slugged .625, scored eight of her team-leading 13 runs, and tallied seven of her season-total nine RBI.
In addition, she pitched a complete-game, three-hit 8-3 victory over Arundel, and went the distance in Saturday's championship game of the North County Holiday Tournament, beating the host Knights, 7-2, in a three-hitter.
"When I think about last week,I still can't believe it," said Schmittle. "I guess I just got into a groove."
With a .565 average and one home run, Schmittle is the top hitter for the 9-0 Patriots, the metro area's top-ranked team. Her nine RBI ranks second to teammate Jen Bostak (.444, 10 RBI), with whom she splits time on the mound.
Using her six-pitch arsenal, including a riser, a curve-drop and a change-up, Schmittle (3-0) has fanned 26 batters in 23 innings of work while allowing just eight walks.
"We're two totally different pitchers. She's mostly fastball, andI like to mix it up," said Bostak, a senior with a 4-0 record, who is bound for La Salle University on a full scholarship.
The task offirst-year coach Lori Darnall is made simpler with players like Bostak and Schmittle in the lineup.
"I'm definitely getting more out of the two of them than I've expected. They've been unbeatable," said Darnall, who worked with the junior varsity team last season. "I had heard more about (Schmittle's) pitching than her hitting. I had heardthat she was more of a power hitter but not that consistent. But she's running the bases well and giving us more offense than I had ever thought."
Physical therapy helped the right-hander recover from tendinitis in her pitching arm. The ailment partially interrupted her summer tenure with the East Regional champion Jade Garden Bandits of the Amateur Softball Association. To allow her arm to heal, Schmittle skipped an annual clinic by pitching guru Jack Crandell for the firsttime in years.
"In my wind-up, (the therapist) said I was bangingmy forearm against my hip," said Schmittle, who boasts a 1.50 ERA. "So I worked on changing that and hit the batting cages during the winter."
But during infield practice four days before the first game,Schmittle was floored by a hard shot to her left eye. The injury wasn't serious, but it forced her to miss the Patriots' first three games.
In her first game back, however, Schmittle's former coach got agood look at her as she hurled her way to 16-0 win over Broccolino'sGophers.
Schmittle was also stalwart against two of the county's premier windmillers, North County's Karen Hay and Archbishop Spalding's Kim Sheridan. Sheridan entered the year with a career 0.62 ERA and588 strikeouts, and Hay went 11-5 a year ago with five no-hitters.
But in last Monday's 6-3 victory over North County, Schmittle went 1-for-4 with three RBI, scoring twice against Hay. The Patriots trailed, 2-0, when her RBI triple scored Lori Lynch, before Schmittle capitalized on Hay's wild pitch to tie the game.
"That definitely lifted the team up. She accounted for five of our six runs in that game,"Darnall said of Schmittle, who struck out the game's final batter inrelief of Bostak.
"I normally don't do well against Karen," said Schmittle. "I was surprised that I even got a hit off of her."
In the victory over Arundel Wednesday, Schmittle went 4-for-4 with threeRBI. She followed with two innings of relief in a 3-2 victory over Spalding and Sheridan (16 strikeouts), going 3-for-4 at the plate.
"(Sheridan) usually gets me with her change-up, but I hit both of hers," said Schmittle, who singled, stole second and eventually scored to give the Patriots a 1-0 lead in that game.
"She has complete control of her pitches and she's hitting great," Broccolino said. "I knew she had star potential, now she's living up to it."