Three's not a crowd, just coach's challenge

Softball: Trio of first-rate starters keeps North Carroll coach Rich Harvey on his toes but also makes the 7-1 Panthers a formidable opponent and title threat.

April 25, 1999|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Having three standout pitchers can be a trying experience at times, even if it is a blessing, in the opinion of North Carroll coach Rich Harvey.

"It's difficult to keep everybody in a good rhythm," he explained. "It's not the greatest thing in the world to pitch one game, then not pitch for a week. Pitchers like that consistency of getting to throw every couple days.

"But with three, sometimes that's not possible."

Mind you, it's not that the Panthers' coach is complaining. It's just that handling a trio of top windmillers is something only a few coaches in state high school softball have had to deal with.

In seniors Katie Mullinix and Angela Smith, and junior Lisa Tunney, Harvey has at his disposal three of the top pitchers not only in Carroll County but metro-wide.

"It's a dream come true for any coach," said Westminster coach Lisa Harford. "It's very rare. Until recently, it's been pretty rare to even have two."

Mullinix (2-1, 1.22 ERA) is the fastest of the three and overpowers batters. Her pitches rarely stray out of the strike zone. Also the most athletic, she fields her position well.

Smith (2-0, 2.55), a left-hander, is especially tough against right-handed batters, because her balls break away from them. She is adept, as well, at hitting the corners of home plate.

Tunney (3-0, 0.67), in her first varsity season, has been the most effective so far, showing better speed and marked improvement from her JV season last spring.

All three take turns starting, although Harvey tries not to have them face the same team twice. When one struggles, he has no second thoughts about using another in relief.

"It's nice to have that security," he said.

Said Mullinix: "We're always there backing each other up."

Harvey credited his mound depth to a recreation program that consistently produces some of the county's most polished talent. It's a luxury most other area coaches don't share, often having to teach kids the basics once they enter high school.

"Somewhere along the line, they're starting off early and learning the mechanics of throwing," said Harvey. "Once they get to us, it's just a matter of getting a little stronger and throwing a little harder, and pitching in certain situations."

The glut of pitching talent allows North Carroll (7-1 overall, 4-1 Central Maryland Conference) to place talented freshmen -- who at many schools would begin their prep careers on the varsity -- on the JV for as many as two years. By the time they're promoted, most are ready to make an immediate impact.

The Panthers' JV this season features a pair of pitchers who would likely start on many area varsities.

The feeder program is the envy of every coach in the county.

"It helps, because it teaches kids at an earlier age that pitching is an option," said Harford, who stressed that most strong-armed kids who grow up playing slow-pitch softball are placed at positions like shortstop or third, because pitching in that game is far more about accuracy than power.

Mullinix, who hopes to play next season at Salisbury State while pursuing a degree in athletic training, switched from slow-pitch to fast in eighth grade in preparation for what was to come in high school.

Even now, she and teammates attend frequent pitching clinics to keep their skills honed year-round.

While all three would naturally like to pitch every game, Harvey said they understand their roles and never let their egos get in the way of the team concept.

That will be important as the Panthers, who have advanced to the state semifinals 11 times in the past 21 years, pursue their first state title since 1991.

Harvey feels it's a big advantage having rested arms on the mound each game, especially during weeks when North Carroll plays up to four times, because ofrainouts.

"I wish we could play four games every week," said the sixth-year coach.

Sure, having three mound aces on the same team has a few drawbacks. Overall, however, they palein comparison to the advantages.

Said Harvey: "We know that if we put a couple of runs on the scoreboard early, our pitching should be able to get a win for us."

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