All-Howard County softball teams

June 02, 1999|By RICK BELZ AND STAN RAPPAPORT

Player of the Year

Katie Zitnay, Atholton, freshman, pitcher: With her arm and bat, Zitnay changed the ruling order of softball in Howard County. Her presence at Atholton allowed last year's pitcher, Sarah Costa, to move to catcher, and last year's catcher, Erin Caffrey, to move to center field, strengthening those positions. Then Zitnay did the rest, pitching every inning of every game and going 17-2. In 124 innings she allowed 90 hits, 14 earned runs, walked 19 and struck out 86. Her ERA was 0.79. "She's the one," said Atholton assistant coach Andy Zitnay, her father. "The final piece of the puzzle that brought everything together. She's the reason [the county championship] happened this year rather than down the road." The No. 2 hitter, Zitnay led the team in runs (26), triples (six), homers (two), RBIs (20) and walks (16). She tied for team highs in batting average (.492) and doubles (five). "She's very mature. She plays like a senior," Zitko said. "Her intensity and focus is among the best in the county. It's the best I've ever seen." Zitnay learned a lot about softball from her father. "She's always mentally in the game," Zitko said. "She always knows what the situation is." And Zitnay has the physical ability -- either from the mound or at the plate -- to make things happen. Her leadership-by-example role proved invaluable for the Raiders. "She's the key," Zitko said. "The confidence and poise that she passes onto the team brings out the potential the other players have. It moves them up to the next level." Such as county champions.

Coach of the Year

John Zitko, Atholton: Before the season started, Zitko knew his team had the potential to be good. He just didn't know how good. "I figured we'd be in the top three," said the third-year coach. A year ago, Atholton won six county games, but had to forfeit them because of an ineligible player. For the record the Raiders finished 0-18 in the county and, after two playoff wins, 2-21 overall. Still, Zitko was confident. "I knew [freshman] Katie [Zitnay] could pitch, and I knew she would have the defense behind her. Last year, we had a good infield and with the infusion of good talent it was only going to get better. And with Erin [Caffrey] moving from catcher to center and Tiffany [Mathis] transferring in, those were two really important additions to the outfield." The Raiders finished 17-1 to capture their first county title in 26 years. Zitko played baseball in high school, but had never played or coached softball before coming to Atholton. Helping him this year and last was Andy Zitnay, an accomplished softball player and Katie's father. "He has 100 times more experience then I do, and learning from him was a big help," Zitko said. And Andy's more intense approach played well to Zitko's laid-back style. "The combination of the two worked really well," Zitko said. "We balanced each other out." A science teacher at Atholton, Zitko said coming up with the right combinations was challenging and rewarding. "The way the pieces fell together this season, it was neat. Coaching the girls was definitely a lot of fun."

The first team

Jen Babish, Wilde Lake, senior, pitcher: A second-team all-county selection last year, Babish finished 13-5 for the second-place Wildecats. She allowed 78 hits, struck out 72, walked 13 and gave up 15 earned runs. Her ERA was 1.00. "The biggest difference this season was that Jen became a pitcher and not a thrower," said Wilde Lake coach Sal Milio. "She had great command of her pitches." At the plate, Babish, who will attend Mount St. Mary's in the fall, had 23 hits, including five doubles, nine RBIs and batted .399.

Kelly O'Neill, Howard, senior, pitcher: A three-time first-team All-County pick, O'Neill really came through in the playoffs, leading the Lions to the state tournament. After a disappointing regular season, the Lions defeated county champion Atholton in the opening round of the Class 2A regionals, then beat four-time state champion McDonough in the regional final. In four regional games, O'Neill struck out 34 and walked only four. For the season, O'Neill, who will attend Catonsville Community College in the fall, allowed 75 hits in 123 2/3 innings, walked 36, struck out 140 and had a 1.30 ERA. Coach Dave Vezzi said that the right-handed O'Neill, who missed some starts because of tendinitis in her pitching arm, worked hard to achieve success. "She's someone who's worked the most to get to the level where she is," he said. O'Neill could be overpowering at times, but it was her location and the way she mixed pitches that made her so effective. "She's the best pitcher we've ever had at Howard," said Vezzi, who just completed his 14th season. O'Neill batted .312, and had 24 hits (second on the team) and a team-high three triples. She also homered once.

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