With Lippy, North Carroll armed for another title run

March 24, 1995|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,Sun Staff Writer

Junior pitcher Charlene Rice asked Liberty first-year coach Nora Murray not to have the portable fence that surrounds the Lions' outfield put up this season.

Last season while coming back from knee surgery, Rice watched as one of her pitches was deposited over that fence for a homer in a junior varsity game.

There will be no fence at Liberty.

"That shattered her confidence for awhile and today she still remembers it," Murray said.

The Lions also have an abundance of team speed in the outfield, enabling them to run down would-be homers and making it more beneficial for them not to have the fence. But having their pitcher confident is the priority.

"That's what fast-pitch softball comes down to," said South Carroll coach Debbie Eaton. "Fast-pitch is a pitcher's game."

Last season, it was North Carroll that dominated county play behind the steady pitching of Kandi Lippy. In coming away with Player of the Year honors, Lippy was 6-0 in county games and closed the county slate with back-to-back shutouts against Westminster and South Carroll. She's back for her senior season and, largely due to that fact, the Panthers are favorites to repeat as county champs.

"I've had Kandi both years I've coached here, so I don't know what it's like not to have a reliable pitcher," said North Carroll coach Rich Harvey. "It's the biggest factor you can have."

The county coaches agree the first and foremost quality of a good pitcher is confidence.

They have to believe in themselves -- that's the first thing," said Francis Scott Key coach Joe Linthicum. "In the county, the teams who get the good pitching always seem to go the farthest."

North Carroll's Michelle Ament was the last dominant pitcher in the county, leading the Panthers to back-to-back state titles in 1990 and 1991 under former coach Phil Bonnell. She didn't do it with overwhelming speed, but relied on great control and good defense behind her.

Linthicum also had a pretty good pitcher in Cathi Bower, who guided the Eagles to a state playoff appearance her junior year in 1991.

"It's important a pitcher doesn't rattle. That's a trait the stronger pitchers in the county have shown," said Eaton.

Expectations are high for this year's crop of pitchers.

Lippy is the mainstay at North Carroll and with the experience she has around her, the Panthers could find themselves back at Randazzo Park in late May.

"She's worked very hard going to pitching clinics and playing in summer leagues. She's dedicated and even-tempered and doesn't get rattled," said Harvey.

Linthicum has proclaimed Ericka Rutzebeck, a junior who gained experience last season, the Eagles' "thoroughbred." Said Linthicum: "She'll carry the load on her shoulders."

Westminster first-year coach Scott Tobias likes the movement he's seen on senior Heather Gonzales' pitches and is impressed with the confidence she's shown.

"She's extremely important to us," Tobias said. "It's not necessarily how fast you pitch, but how much your ball moves. She's been able to hit her spots."

Eaton said she's never had particularly strong pitching at South Carroll. Left-hander Alison Smith and right-hander Erica Horst will share the pitching duties with Kelly Parks a third pitcher. "For us, it's mostly consistency. We've never been a strong pitching team with a lot of speed," Eaton said.

Rice could be the one to catch teams off guard. She's been pitching for eight years and lived in softball-happy Anne Arundel County before coming to Carroll her freshman year. She'll give batters five or six different pitches to look at and calls her own game.

"If you have a good pitcher, you'll have a good team," Murray said. "They're the center of the whole game."

*

There are two new varsity coaches in the county, but both know their teams well.

At Westminster, Tobias replaces former coach Kathleen Hodgkins after spending two seasons as the junior varsity coach. Murray also coached two years at the varsity level at Liberty before taking over for Bob Berger.

Tobias, a Millersville (Pa.) University grad, teaches technology education at East Middle School. He played three years of baseball and two of football at Millersville. Hodgkins stepped down to pursue a master's degree after coaching the Owls for five years and guiding the team to a county title in 1993.

Murray is a 1982 Liberty grad who's a substitute at her alma mater. She played one season of softball at Loch Haven (Pa.) University and had a stint as a Liberty assistant in 1984-85.

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