What's the greatest challenge awaiting the Chesapeake softball team in tomorrow night's Class 4A state final?
If you were thinking overconfidence, rather than the opposition, you had better guess again.
Granted, the No. 1 seeds have claimed the last two 4A championships and three of the last four. And they're coming off an 11-0 trouncing of Springbrook in the state semifinals Tuesday night -- a game that showcased both the Cougars' exceptional pitching and explosive offense.
And if that's not reason enough for a group of players to have their heads in the clouds, many of them were on the team that rolled over tomorrow's opponent, third-seeded Frederick, 6-0, in last year's final.
But if this all sounds like the perfect excuse for the Cougars to enter the 8:30 p.m. final at Randazzo Park in cruise control, just listen to eighth-year coach Dennis Thiele.
"This team will have it drilled into them the next two days that they better not just walk out with their gloves and throw them on the field and expect to win. If that's the attitude they take, we don't have a chance," he said.
"You have to go in with a healthy respect for your opponent. I'm not saying it can't be a blowout, but it's highly improbable. It should be a tight ballgame. They're no pushover."
Maybe not, but no one is arguing that the Cadets will have their hands full. Not even Frederick coach Ed Remus, who said, "We know what we're up against."
The Cougars (19-1) have won 18 straight games since a 2-0 loss to North County in the rain on April 1. They exacted revenge on the Knights with a 3-2, 11-inning win in the Region IV finals, when junior pitcher Lori Congdon struck out 17.
Congdon has been outstanding all season in going 12-0, but she's been especially strong in the postseason. The right-hander tossed a no-hitter against Arundel in the regional semifinals, a 6-0 Chesapeake victory, and went the distance in out-dueling North County's Karen Hay last week.
She went five innings against Springbrook, allowing one hit and striking out 11, before Thiele brought in senior Kristin Spakto close the game. Spak struck out three batters in her two hitless innings of work.
Congdon will return to the mound against Frederick (20-2), though Spak likely will be warming on the side in case this one also gets out of hand early.
"I've been surprised by how successful she was against all of the top county teams," Thiele said of Congdon. "I figure, once in while, someone would catch up to her. But that never happened. And, with Kristin, we were able to keep teams off-balance. They really complemented each other."
The Cougars will see a familiar face on the Cadets' side in sophomore pitcher Terri Summers (19-2), who took the loss in last year's final. Summers gave up five hits and struck out six in a 6-1 victory over LaPlata in the other state semifinal Tuesday night.
"She's pretty tough. Or I like to think she is," said Remus, who also serves as the school's athletic director.
Thiele said, "She's been likened to Jen Bostak [of Old Mill]. That's a good pitcher. She mixes her pitches up, using some good off-speed stuff, and will try to keep batters off balance, as opposed to the one we saw last night [Springbrook's Cristie Ritz], who just threw the same pitch."
Frederick, the 3A state runner-up in 1988, won its last four games of the regular season to sneak into the playoffs and set up tomorrow's rematch.
"I know one thing, we've got to play a great game to beat them," said Remus, whose leading hitter is senior catcher Christine Lovett (.435). "Anne Arundel County plays the best softball in the state, and [the Cougars] are the best team there. But we've played a couple of good games in a row, and if we stay close, we've got a shot.
"Our girls need to focus on playing well, pitch by pitch. One bad inning in a game like this will take you out of it and ruin your season. If we can avoid that, we'll be all right. I just hope we've got one more game in us."
Remus also hopes that the Cougars will take his team lightly.
But Thiele saw something after Tuesday's rout that told him otherwise. It seems that many of his players still feel as though they have something to prove -- at least to themselves.
"A lot of the girls weren't happy with their performances," Thiele said. "That shows me the level of intensity they have and the level of ability they want to put on the field. Only one or two girls thought they did a good job. You can see what they're shooting for."
Another state championship, what else?