Frosh getting right results

Softball: Five fiery newcomers are helping turn former doormat Atholton's fortunes around, as in 10 straight wins.

April 22, 1999|By Stan Rappaport | Stan Rappaport,SUN STAFF

This is the Atholton way, said right fielder Tiffany Mathis.

"We don't think we're better than anybody else," said Mathis, a junior transfer from Louisville. "We just come out and do our thing and see how it goes."

So far, it's going very well.

Ten games. Ten wins.

"That team is for real," said Wilde Lake coach Sal Milio, whose Wildecats (9-1) dropped a 4-0 decision against 12th-ranked Atholton. "They play with all kinds of confidence. You can see it in those kids."

The Raiders were 2-16 in the county two years ago and last season finished 0-18 after forfeiting six wins because of an ineligible player.

Now, surprisingly, they are the team to beat. The Raiders have a top-notch pitcher, solid defense and a lineup that can punish opponents at the plate.

So how did it happen?

Start with the five freshman, three of whom start and another who has played in half the games.

"The freshmen have been able to carry the team," said Erin Caffrey, one of two seniors on the squad. "They have made the difference."

Pitcher Katie Zitnay heads the freshmen. In fast-pitch softball, the pitcher is everything. Zitnay may prove to be one of the best.

"She throws strikes," said River Hill coach Dave Vitagliano, who coached Atholton for nine seasons before starting the program at River Hill two years ago.

"She throws it over the plate and lets the defense catch it," Long Reach coach Chuck Struhar said.

First and foremost, Zitnay is a competitor. In 65 innings she has struck out 53, walked nine and allowed 42 hits. She has a 0.73 ERA, and opposing hitters are batting .166 against her. She is a very good fielder and leads the Raiders in batting average (.581), RBIs (14), hits (18), runs (16), walks (eight), triples (four) and on-base percentage (.667).

"She is never out of focus," said Atholton coach John Zitko, "and it helps the other girls stay focused as well. It's amazing. I've never seen her flustered, and that's been a big difference against the better teams."

Zitnay, who turns 15 on May 8, is modest about her accomplishments.

"People have told me that I've made a difference, that I've made the team better," said Zitnay, who gives the same accolades to her teammates. "It's nice to be appreciated."

Zitnay's father, Andy, is serving as an assistant coach for a second straight year. An accomplished softball player himself, Andy calls the pitches for his daughter.

"We get along pretty good," Zitnay said. "Every once in a while we have a disagreement. It's just a father-daughter thing."

The other two freshman starters are first baseman Kelly Kemp and third baseman Stacy DeFino. Infielder Aubrey Barrett has started half the season at designated hitter, and Karen Lee, a shortstop and outfielder, rounds out the freshmen corps.

The Raiders returned five players from last year's team, four of them starters. But of those returning starters, three of them are at new positions this year.

Sophomore Sarah Costa, who did most of the pitching last season, moved to her natural position of catcher and has done an excellent job. She is hitting .471 and has 16 hits, 13 RBIs and a team-high six doubles.

Caffrey, who is hitting .355 and has a team-high eight steals, caught last year and has solidified the outfield from her center-field position. Junior Lauren Mickley has moved from third base to second.

Junior shortstop Jessica McDonagh returned to the same position, and junior Jen Poston, the other returning varsity player, is an outfielder.

Sophomore outfielder Marie Miller is up from JV, and sophomore outfielder Meghan O'Brien and senior outfielder Joy Belding are playing varsity for the first time. Belding pinch runs, and has scored six times this year.

Shifting players like Costa and Caffrey, along with the skilled freshmen, has made the Raiders very good defensively. And very aggressive at the plate.

"They really hit the ball," said Vitagliano, whose River Hill team lost 12-2 to the Raiders. "That's the hardest anybody has hit us this year."

With eight county games left, the second half of the season "will be different, because all the teams are going to be after us," Zitnay said. "Personally, I don't think it will be a problem as long as we stay relaxed."

Atholton's only county title came in 1973.

"It's definitely going to be tough, but I think we can handle the pressure," Caffrey said. "The excitement of doing well is great. I'm enjoying it. It's making my senior year mighty pleasant."

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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