Fast-pitch game gains popularity High schools benefit from recreation council leagues with fast game


March 20, 1998|By John W. Stewart | John W. Stewart,SUN STAFF

North Carroll's run to a place in the state Class 3A championship softball game last season not only brought the school rightful recognition but reflected well on the North Carroll Recreation Council.

While there definitely is no intent by the county's 18 councils to serve as so-called "feeders" for the high schools, it stands to reason that the programs which offer fast-pitch competition, for instance, will be ahead of those that don't.

North Carroll coach Rich Harvey is quick with the credit.

"Our recreation programs for softball are a big plus," he said yesterday. "The freshmen come in with certain skills, so you don't need to start from scratch.

"That's the way it has been for the five years I've been here. You see solid athletes coming with solid skills. As a result, we can get to the finer points and hone these skills quicker than if we had to spend time on the basics.

"The contributions are especially noticeable at the JV level. Over the last four years, our JV teams have lost just one game."

The Panthers benefit, too, from the fact many of the girls are involved in a high volume of play during the summer, either in their communities or perhaps neighboring ones with leagues of different skill levels.

For years, the county's recreation softball emphasis was exclusively on slo-pitch. But more recently, the two games have been treated as separate activities because of the growing demand for fast-pitch.

"We have 18 volunteer councils, and while some are focused on certain groups or certain activities, I'd say one-third to one-half of them have softball," Jeff Degitz, bureau chief for the county's Department of Recreation and Parks, said. "In most of those, fast-pitch is just getting started, but it is gaining in popularity. Our main job is to offer programs, giving the people what they want, offering recreational opportunities to as many as possible.

"With the councils responding to requests, we see a growing interest in fast-pitch."

While the North Carroll recreation council was one of the first to implement fast-pitch, other councils have begun to follow suit.

"Our recreation programs are giving us some help, because fast-pitch has been around awhile" said fourth-year Liberty softball coach Nora Murray. "This year, for example, I have some freshmen giving me pitching depth I haven't had before.

"Although the defensive skills are the same, the offense is totally different. That's why some players who come to us having had great success in slo-pitch think they are going to have it here, and find out it's a different game.

"North Carroll has one of the strongest fast-pitch programs because it has dedicated people running it. We have the same thing with our councils here, but the people are going against a slo-pitch program of some 1,500 players."

Murray added that one of the Liberty players this season came in having played baseball, and the coach thought this might have helped her more than if she had a slo-pitch background.

At South Carroll, 11-year coach Debbie Eaton also was $l complimentary of the programs in her area. "The rec leagues, especially softball, are very good."

Francis Scott Key also has benefited from the programs in its area.

Although Westminster appears to have a strong team this season, pre-high school fast-pitch opportunities are limited. Star pitcher Carli Harris, for example, has sharpened her talents playing in a Damascus summer league.

Others may play outside the county, too, but given opportunities at an earlier age, plus competitive leagues in which to play, they might stay closer to home.

"I'd say we're behind because there is no fast-pitch feeder system," says new Westminster coach Lisa Harford, a former three-sport athlete at the school and a softball standout at Western Maryland.

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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