If yesterday's season opener was any indication of what's to come from sophomore pitcher Jessica Saunders and the top-ranked Archbishop Spalding softball team, opponents will have little margin for error.
Saunders was perfect through four innings against No. 5 Seton Keough and pitched a three-hitter in a 4-1 win at Randazzo Park in Severn.
Sophomore Meg Cowen sparked the offense, leading off the bottom of the first with a single and scoring on Amanda Collins' groundout. A two-out, run-scoring single from Becky Mooty gave the Cavaliers a 2-0 lead later in the inning. It was all Saunders would need.
Spalding coach Linda Taylor thought it was important to get the season off to a fast start, and Cowen, who also doubled and scored to start a two-run fifth, provided it.
"I think that first hit sets the whole mood for the rest of the game," said Cowen. "That's my favorite part of the game. I feel confident I can get the job done."
Saunders, mixing her speeds and hitting her spots throughout, picked up where she left off last season, when she went 7-2 with a 0.13 ERA.
The Gators (0-2) were finally able to catch up with her fastball in the fifth -- getting a leadoff walk from Katie Purper followed by a single from Shalise Tolentino, but couldn't score.
They ruined Saunders' shutout in the seventh when Tolentino singled home pitcher Kristin Dulay to make it 4-1, but ran themselves out of the inning with the final out recorded at the plate.
"We kept our heads up and fought back," said assistant coach Jeremy Rheam, filling in for coach Fred Brocklander. "[Saunders] was a very fast pitcher and mixed it up on us a lot. We were having trouble picking up the ball, but at the end were able to bring our level to hers."
And just how high a level can Saunders reach?
"She continues to improve on a daily basis -- she's just incredible," said Taylor. "Her maturity level has increased, and she has more control of her pitches. She's confident, and the team is confident behind her."
Saunders said last year's time spent on the mound was a big help going into this season.
"Being a freshman, I was nervous a lot. Now as a sophomore, I have a little more experience. I'm more comfortable and know the team better," she said.
The Gators, who were coming off a 1-0 extra-inning loss to Institute of Notre Dame earlier in the week, will look to regroup. Rheam is confident they will bounce back.
"We're still growing and learning. We'll get better as the season goes on," he said.
Freshman Keri Lounge singled twice and scored for the Cavaliers, who also got a run-scoring single from Tine Ryals in their eight-hit attack.