Defense proves difference as Atholton spills River Hill


April 09, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

You can't tell just how well Atholton's softball team plays defense by looking at box scores.

You can, however, look at the Raiders pants - usually caked with dirt and grass stains by game's end - and get a pretty good idea of just how good they are.

Every time you looked up yesterday, it seemed like one of the Raiders was diving on the ground to rob a River Hill batter of a hit. And that fancy fielding proved to be the difference as No. 3 Atholton defeated the Hawks, 5-2, in a matchup of two of the county's best teams at Atholton.

"The defense today was phenomenal," said Raiders winning pitcher Katie Zitnay. "I was so happy. They really saved my butt today."

Shortstop Karen Lee and second baseman Megan Murphy were particularly good, snuffing out several River Hill rallies after Atholton took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a Hawks throwing error.

"I'm not a strikeout pitcher, I'm a groundball pitcher," said Zitnay, a two-time Howard County Player of the Year. "I know that I've got people behind me who can field, and I depend on them to make plays."

The Raiders (4-1) needed some big plays on defense to offset a solid outing by River Hill pitcher Kelly Smith, who struck out six through four innings. River Hill (4-1) looked like it had something going in the fourth when Hawks right fielder Nicole Mele smacked a line drive into center with a runner on base. But Mele could only watch as Atholton's Aubrey Barrett dove face-first and snagged the ball out of the air for the third out of the inning.

"Our defense definitely held us together until we started hitting," Barrett said. "When we started hitting the ball, it all came together. There's not stopping us once when that happens."

The Raiders' bats heated up in the fifth as Smith started to tire. Right fielder Chelsey Barrett drove in Murphy with a single and Zitnay followed with an RBI triple. The next batter, Atholton catcher Kelly Kemp, made it 4-0 by driving in Zitnay with a double.

"You've got to get your hits when you need them, and we did that today," Zitnay said.

River Hill didn't go quietly, getting two in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Smith and a RBI single by Megan Mitchell, but Zitnay shut down the Hawks the rest of the way to close out the win.

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