Kari Chichester admits she had doubts about Jodi Meitl.
When Meitl reported for practice at Centennial two months ago, she was one year removed from the worst spring of her life. A tragic car accident had claimed the life of her close friend. The wreck also had left Meitl with an assortment of serious injuries, including a broken pelvis and a fractured skull. The accident ended her season before it had begun.
The Eagles quietly wondered about Meitl. Would she look anything like the pitcher who had mesmerized the county during her first two years? Would she reassert herself as the league's best, and bring the Eagles along for the ride?
"Everybody knew how good she [Meitl] was," said Chichester, Centennial's junior catcher and Meitl's battery mate. "But everybody still was a little doubtful that she was going to get it back."
On Wednesday, against her toughest league competition, Meitl erased those doubts for the 11th straight time.
For 90 minutes against Glenelg, Meitl staged a pitching clinic to lead the Eagles to a critical, 5-0 victory. Her masterful, five-hit shutout -- her fifth of the season -- kept Centennial's (8-0 county) perfect season going and gave the Eagles a two-game lead over Glenelg in the race for the county championship.
Centennial beat Glenelg from all angles Wednesday. The Eagles collected eight hits off Glenelg pitcher Lisa Martin. They ran the bases well. Although they committed two errors, they played good defense when it counted.
Jeanine Lee pulled a two-out, two-run double down the left field line to give Centennial a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Becky Joeckel and Kathy Gallagher drove in runs in the fourth to give the Eagles a 4-0 lead. Meitl, the Eagles' cleanup hitter, did her part offensively by going 2-for-3 with two runs scored.
But the real story was Meitl's strong right arm, which put a memorable stamp on an amazing comeback season. Meitl is 11-0, having pitched every inning of every game this spring. Wednesday marked the third straight day she pitched a complete game.
"I'm so proud my body is allowing me to do this," Meitl said. "Psychologically, I was ready to come back this season, but I was scared and timid. I didn't how I was going to do. I knew we would be good, because Centennial always has a good team. I knew Kari and I would work together well. But I really didn't think I'd do this well."
FTC Ask Glenelg coach Chuck Struhar how good Meitl is. With a mixture of frustration and admiration, he watched her dominate a Glenelg lineup that entered the game batting .390. Besides permitting five singles, Meitl walked none and struck out 11, while lowering her ERA to 0.64.
"Jodi is as good a pitcher as there is. She's way beyond where she was as a freshman," said Struhar, whose 8-2 Gladiators have lost only to Centennial. "When she was a freshman [Meitl's Player of the Year season], she was throwing. She's pitching now. There's a big difference. She doesn't walk anybody, she doesn't hit anybody, she throws strike after strike after strike. You just don't get many shots at her."
Glenelg had chances. In the first inning, Tanissa Dorsey singled and advanced to third on a passed ball and a groundout. In the third, two singles and an error loaded the bases for Glenelg with two out. And in the fourth, Debbie Snyder led off with an infield hit, took second on a throwing error and moved to third on a wild pitch by Meitl.
Each time, Meitl slammed the door on the Gladiators -- twice against Jodi Kielman, Glenelg's dangerous cleanup hitter (.515, three home runs, 20 RBI). In the first, Meitl struck out Kielman on a 1-2 changeup to end the inning. In the third, she got Kielman on an inning-ending grounder to first base. She fanned Robin Ruppalt, Dawn Geisler and Lauren Doyle to leave Snyder stranded at third to squelch Glenelg's final rally.
"I get nervous every time I face Glenelg. I have a lot of friends on the team, and everybody in that lineup hits the ball," Meitl said.
Meitl had the Gladiators waving helplessly at rising fastballs, offspeed junk, outside curves and straight heat. Only two of the last 13 Glenelg hitters reached base. Eight of the last 13 went down on strikes. After the Eagles had taken a 4-0 lead, the last four innings belonged to Meitl.
After beginning her comeback last summer, Meitl once again has become every hitter's nightmare. In 77 innings, she has hurled two no-hitters, given up only 22 hits while, in an incredible display of controlled power, issuing only six walks and recording 122 strikeouts. Opponents are batting an ice-cold .078 against her.
"I'm just so happy to be back out there," she said. "All I want is to end my senior year on a high note."
The doubts have been erased. Jodi Meitl is back.