County keeping eye on Atholton

Defending champ Raiders return 7 starters, but foes expect wide-open race

March 20, 2000|By Stan Rappaport | Stan Rappaport,SUN STAFF

A year ago, Atholton rode the pitching and hitting of county Player of the Year Katie Zitnay to capture its first county title since 1973.

"It was fun," Zitnay said of her outstanding freshman season. "I like surprising people."

The Raiders won't sneak up on anyone this season.

"Atholton's the team to beat," River Hill coach Dave Vitagliano said.

Wilde Lake coach Sal Milio agreed, but said "the county [race] is wide-open. Atholton is a step above everyone else, but as good as they are, I don't think they're going to go undefeated. I really think eight teams could beat any other team on any given day. It's that balanced."

Wilde Lake, Centennial, River Hill and Long Reach all figure to be in the race. All those teams except Centennial had winning records last season. The Eagles should be improved because they return most of their starters, including junior pitcher Amanda Hall, who injured her right knee and missed most of last season.

"I feel good. I'm excited about the season," said Hall, who had surgery in December to repair the meniscus and clean out her kneecap. "We're a lot stronger than last year."

Atholton coach John Zitko feels his team, which went 17-1 to win the county title by three games, has improved as well. "Our bench is deeper and stronger," he said.

The Raiders return seven starters, including first-team All-County players Zitnay, catcher Sarah Costa and outfielder Tiffany Mathis. They certainly are as good as last year. The only difference is that they're defending a county title.

"Everyone is out to get us," Costa said.

Said senior shortstop Jessica McDonagh: "There's definitely more pressure. Last year we had nothing to lose. This year we have a lot to defend.

"I've heard rumors that some coaches thought it was a fluke that we won. We want to prove that it wasn't."

The Raiders, who open the season Wednesday at Centennial, are ready.

"We just have to take it one game at a time," Costa said. "If we play to our potential we're going to be tough to beat."

Added Zitko: "It's a new challenge, but the character of the team remains strong and that will get us through successfully."

Zitnay had a breakthrough season last year, and there's no reason to think this season won't be as good or better. She finished 17-2 with an ERA of 0.79. She struck out 86, walked 19 and allowed only 14 earned runs.

Zitnay said she feels "better" and "stronger" this season. "I have different pitches that move better and I've increased my speed," she said.

Costa agreed. "She's gotten faster and her ball is moving a lot," the junior catcher said. "She has more pitches and they're more effective than last year."

Zitnay also was instrumental at the plate. Batting in the second slot, 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).

Zitnay likes a good battle. And when she said, "We're the team to beat right now," she couldn't be happier.

"It's intense. I like it," Zitnay said. "I like the competition. I'm a very competitive person, and have always been that way. I get it from my dad [assistant coach Andy Zitnay]."

With every team hoping to knock off Atholton, Zitnay acknowledged the season might be more difficult. But she thinks it will be just as successful.

"It's going to be a little harder to get through, but we have a good enough team to do it," said Zitnay. "I think we can go pretty far this year."

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