Atholton's wins blot out last year's lost season

Raiders' 5-0 softball start renews hope for team that struggled last spring

High Schools

April 09, 2004|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Meaghan Murphy has buried most of the forgettable memories - with one exception.

In the midst of a stretch last season in which the Atholton softball team dropped six of its last seven games, the Raiders surrendered seven runs in the second inning at home against Mount Hebron on April 30 in what would be a 7-2 loss.

That, Murphy said, was the team's nadir.

"It was frustrating at that point," the senior second baseman said. "We knew we could play better, and nothing was working that day. It was a mess."

That memory seems distant now. Atholton, which had won four straight county championships just two years ago, boasts a 5-0 record this spring, all league games.

The Raiders and reigning county champion Glenelg are the only county teams perfect in league play thus far. The reversal in form is not lost on many of the Atholton players who endured last spring's 10-10 record.

"It just sounds so cool to say 5-0," said senior first baseman Allie Scott. "I hope we can continue that record. I think we can."

As recently as five years ago, winning wasn't just a wish at Atholton. It was an expectation.

Under former coach John Zitnay, the Raiders collected county titles between 1999 and 2001 and advanced to the Class 2A state final twice - in 2000 and 2001.

Atholton won its fourth straight county championship in 2002, the first for then new coach Maureen Shacreaw.

Although the 2003 squad had to replace eight graduated starters, the Raiders could cull players from a JV team that won the county crown in 2002. Anticipation was high.

Then the season began, and Atholton - and its opponents - found its Achilles' heel: errors.

For the year, the Raiders committed 62 errors in 20 games, averaging 3.1 miscues a contest. Senior right fielder Emily Stivers said the pattern was all-too familiar.

"When one person made a mistake, they kept coming," she said. "We couldn't pick ourselves back up. ... I think it was kind of a mental thing."

Some of the errors could be traced to the players' fearfulness of disappointing Shacreaw. Even though Shacreaw is a serious yet fun-loving coach, only five of the 15 players on last season's team had played for her, and the rest read and heard the comparisons to Shacreaw's 2002 county title squad.

"When we were on JV, she was on varsity, and they were really good," said senior center fielder Kitty Steger. "We wanted to be just as good. So there was a lot to uphold."

Shacreaw has tried to break the ice with her players, cracking jokes with the team before games and teaching a sociology course to several of her players at Atholton.

"I worked really hard this school year to knock down whatever walls the kids had last year to make them go on the field [without] looking over their shoulder," Shacreaw said. "The philosophy is to keep things at a real even keel, and they will succeed."

The strategy has worked. The Raiders have committed just four errors in five games, giving the pitchers, sophomore Nicole Massarelli (3-0, 0.41 ERA, 20 strikeouts) and senior Kelly Halstead (2-0, 0.53 ERA, 12 strikeouts), greater confidence.

Five players are batting .357 or better, and Atholton has scored 50 runs compared to nine through last spring's first five games.

Next week represents the Raiders' toughest test. They are scheduled for four games, including River Hill (3-2 in the county), Mount Hebron (3-1) and Glenelg (5-0).

But before expectations spiral , Murphy said this year's team will tackle this spring with a new identity: its own.

"We understand that Sarah Costa and Katie Zitnay and Sarah Lee were awesome, and we can aspire to be like them and win as many games as them," Murphy said. "But this is a new team. ... We've got players who can be as good as them."

Added Shacreaw: "We want to do the best we can in the county, and if that leads to the county championship, we will be proud. But we will also be proud of the girls if they leave everything they have on the field each and every time out and give their best effort."

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