Howard hopes to threaten the big three 1994 COUNTY SOFTBALL PREVIEW

March 17, 1994|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Staff Writer

Softball pitchers Kim Ruprecht of Atholton and Kim May of Centennial were misidentified in photographs appearing in the March 17 editions of The Sun and The Evening Sun. The race may be new, but the contenders look familiar.

In Howard County softball, defending champ Centennial, Atholton and Glenelg have lined up as the teams to beat once again.

All three return top pitchers but Centennial has the edge with All-Metro second-teamer Kim May. The Eagles return Kim Ruprecht and the Gladiators bring back All-County first-team pick Lyndsay Smyth. May and Ruprecht have the speed while Smyth relies on finesse, but all three should have their teams in contention not only for the county title but also for regional championship runs.

Glenelg also returns the Howard County Player of the Year, Jodi Kielman at first base.

Although pitching often swings the outcome in softball, don't tell that to Howard. The Lions beat every team except Glenelg in their second run through the county last season despite struggling on the mound. If the Lions can start off as strongly as they finished, they could contend too.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Another team that might be in the hunt is Mount Hebron, which returns yet another strong pitcher in Jenny Joyce.

Atholton

With Kim Ruprecht on the mound, the Raiders hope to improve on an 11-10 overall record. They also hope to get past the regional final, where they fell to Centennial last spring.

Although she struggled late in the season, Ruprecht brings back her sensational speed and coach Dave Vitagliano expects her control to be even better this time. Last year, she finished 11-9 with 145 strikeouts but she also walked 115 batters. Her overall ERA was 4.13, but it dropped to 2.50 in the county, where the Raiders finished 9-5, good enough for third place behind Centennial and Glenelg.

In addition to Ruprecht, the Raiders return experience in six other positions.

In the infield, the Raiders bring back three third-year starters in senior first baseman Stacie Vollentine, senior second baseman Stacey Williams and junior shortstop Chrissy Gavin. Sophomore Lea Nichols finds a regular assignment at third after starting every game at a variety of positions.

Two starters return to the outfield -- junior Kelly Stewart in right and senior Lisa Murphy in left. Junior Tracy Teal will start in center after playing eight games last season. Junior Stephanie Van Deusen and sophomore Mandy Robins also should see action.

Behind the plate, however, Vitagliano will start a newcomer, freshman Shannon Eierman. Senior Nicole Blankenship will back her up.

Another newcomer, junior pitcher Kendra Gottsman, could also see time. Gottsman compiled a 14-1 record last season on the Raiders JV.

Last year, the Raiders got off to a quick start winning their first eight games. Then, in a span of four days, they ran up against Centennial twice and Glenelg. "We lost all three, and then we ended up losing a couple of games to teams we shouldn't have lost to," said Vitagliano, whose team really never emerged from that skid.

For the Raiders, the key to the season lies in the run production. If they post a better offensive year, they should improve their record. Ruprecht, an All-Metro first teamer at DH, is the team's top hitter, batting .380 with 22 RBIs last year. She also led the Raiders in hits (27), doubles (seven) and triples (four).

Williams (.306), Gavin (.277, 22 stolen bases) and Vollentine (.246, 14 RBIs) should also continue as top scoring threats.

"Obviously a lot rests on Kim, and I think we can count on her to do her job," said Vitagliano. "With our pitching and our defense, we should be able to keep most teams to a manageable number of runs. The question is can we hit the ball -- which we did not last year."

Centennial

The defending county champions also return the top pitcher in junior Kim May, an All-Metro second teamer.

A second-year starter, May finished last season with a 16-5 record and one save. She had an ERA of 1.80 and struck out 173 while allowing just 85 walks in 144 innings.

With great speed and control, May will be even more important to the Eagles early on since they graduated experienced players at the other key spots -- catcher, shortstop and center fielder.

The Eagles will have to fill those holes if they expect a repeat of the 19-5 season that sent them to the state Class 3A title game, where they fell to Calvert.

"The biggest thing for us is to fill that loss of experience," said coach Dale Huting, whose team finished 12-2 in the county. "We have to have that experience and confidence. It's a matter of, over the next three weeks, just playing a bunch of games and getting comfortable with the roles everyone needs to play."

Huting has the talent to fill all of the holes but some of it is untested.

Sophomore Brittany Deuchler takes over behind the plate. Although she has never played high school ball, her summer league experience should let her fit right in.

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