On field and off, Key makes unity statement

Softball: After several down years, the Eagles are 12-6 and back near the top of the MVAL with a close-knit team that even dresses alike during the school day.

May 09, 1999|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On game days in the town of Union Bridge, students at Francis Scott Key High School seldom have difficulty figuring out which of their classmates play varsity softball, even if they're not carrying gloves.

They're the ones making a fashion statement.

As a symbol of team unity, players dress alike during the school day, sometimes a bit outlandishly. In an effort to stand apart from the crowd, they've been known to wear uniform socks with shorts or wear their hair in pigtails.

"It's that link that kind of unites them," said Eagles coach Joe Linthicum.

So far, it's a bond that also has paid big dividends on the field. After winning just six games a year ago, the closer-knit Eagles are 12-6 and near the top of the Monocacy Valley Athletic League standings.

It's the team's best season since the early 1990s, when Key completed a three-year run that included a 1991 trip to the state tournament semifinals.

To third baseman Jordan Torbeck, the Eagles' improved attitude has been the biggest difference this season.

"We weren't a team last year," she said. "When we'd say, `Do something goofy like put pigtails in your hair,' a lot of people wouldn't do it. I really believe that if we weren't as much a team, and we weren't so united and close knit, then we wouldn't have anything. I guess it's the old cliche, `The team that stays together plays together.' "

Of course, it doesn't hurt to have plenty of talent, as well.

Led by one of the area's premier pitching tandems in sophomore Meredith Carter and junior Misti Myers, the Eagles are holding opponents to an average of one run a game.

Carter (6-1, 0.66 ERA) is the harder thrower of the two, striking out 67 and allowing just 34 hits over 53 innings. Myers (6-3, 1.51), who relies more on her control, induces ground balls by keeping her pitches down in the strike zone.

"I knew the pitching would get us there," said Linthicum. "The only question mark was making sure we could hit, and the hitting is starting to come. We've stranded a few runners, but we're putting the ball in play."

Catcher Meagan Tracey (.383, 17 RBIs) provides the big bat in the middle of a lineup that averages nearly six runs a game. Her hitting is complemented by such talents as Torbeck (.313, 15 RBIs), Stephanie Robertson (.311, six extra-base hits) and Jen Amass (.300, 11 RBIs).

Together, they've helped the Eagles knock off some of the top teams in the MVAL, including Catoctin and Middletown.

A six-game streak

After starting the season with a 10-0 loss to Class 2A state finalist Walkersville, the Eagles regrouped and put together a six-game winning streak that turned their season around.

In April, the Eagles nearly toppled the unbeaten Lions in a rematch, taking a 1-0 lead into the final inning before falling.

In the process, however, they scored the first run off fireballing senior Amy Burdette, considered by many since her sophomore year to be the best pitcher in the state.

The Eagles are playing some of their best ball of the season, and it couldn't come at a better time, as they prepare to begin play in the Class 2A West regional playoffs next weekend.

"We've come so far as a team," said Tracey. "The way we've been playing lately, everything has just been coming together, and it's coming together right around states. We're making great progress."

Tracey and Torbeck are two of the team's four seniors, along with Sindi Stem and Robertson, who Linthicum credits with turning the Eagles from a collection of talented players into the epitome of a team.

"In the past, we've had one or two seniors act as leaders," said Linthicum. "This year, at one time or another, all four have played an integral role in making this team go. It's a whole different work ethic. The four seniors have taken this thing and made it happen."

After experiencing several straight losing seasons, players asked Linthicum during spring training what it would take to earn a championship banner for the gymnasium wall.

He told them the only way was to play as a unit and make it happen for themselves.

Whether they win a title or not, the Eagles already have gone a long way in proving the importance of teamwork -- no matter how funny they may be dressed.

Said Linthicum: "I've been down below. I know what it's like to be on the lower end of the scale. Now, it feels good to be on top"

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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