It took a year to do it, but Carroll girls slow-pitch softball teams seem to be mastering the National Softball Association.
Last year, Howard County swept all four age-group titles in Maryland's first-ever NSA state girls championship tournament, leaving Carroll clubs in their wake.
But the Carroll teams retaliated at this weekend's reprise in Catonsville.
Hampstead entrants won the 14-and-under and 16-and-under titles Sunday at Catonsville High. The Westminster Rockets placed second in the 12-and-under bracket, Westminster was third in 14-and-under and Freedom fourth in 12-and-under.
The five teams each won a berths in both the NSA Youth Slow-Pitch World Series July 23-26 in Rock Hill, S.C., and the National Region II tourney Aug. 7-9. The 16-and-under portion of that regional will be held near New York City and the 10-and-under, 12-and-under, and 14-and-under will be played in Westminster.
The two Hampstead teams' success at least partially disproves the old adage that practice makes perfect.
The two clubs, drawn from the Hampstead Lions in-house girls softball program, were formed only about a month ago and had never played an official game until this weekend.
Despite his team's relative lack of seasoning, success wasn't a complete shock to 14-and-under coach Keith Woodburn.
"In some ways [it was surprising], but the talent on this team is so good," he said. "The girls are excellent athletes."
He said his team's strong hitting attack overcame occasional defensive lapses.
Hampstead opened with three straight wins before coming unraveled against Catonsville.
But after that 12-2 loss, "the girls said they wanted to be the state champions and would do it in the next game," Woodburn said.
True to their prediction, they prevailed, 11-10, in the finale, despite blowing an early 9-0 lead.
Woodburn credited assistants Bud McCully, Len Miller and Tim Shaffer for instilling sufficient softball knowledge into the players during their abbreviated practice schedule.
"Without them, the team wouldn't be anywhere," Woodburn said.
Hampstead 16-and-under coach Keith Heindel followed a similar path, winning three, losing one, then winning a taut finale, a 10-8 decision over Greencastle, Pa., which was allowed to play because Pennsylvania has no NSA state championship.
"It was great to see them do it," Heindel said. "They have been playing [in-house] ball for a lot of years.
Heindel added that "any MVP trophy would have to go to the whole team."
Both Hampstead coaches say they will enter their teams in upcoming tournaments to prepare for the World Series.
So will Jack Wunderlich, who shepherded Westminster to the 12-and-under finale, where it fell to Catonsville, 15-5.
He credited a strong defense and timely hitting for carrying the team to a 5-2 tourney record.
Wunderlich said he felt his team, drawn from the Westminster Jaycees in-house program, "would be competitive but I never thought we'd get that far. The girls proved me wrong."
The happiest coach of all, though, might have been Freedom's Roger Whetzel, whose team went 2-2 in finishing fourth in the 12-and-under group.
He said he is on "cloud nine" at the prospect of playing in a national-level softball competition.
"The World Series was our goal. That is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for the kids. We're going," he said.