Maybe the best thing about being young is that there's no sense of wistfulness, no feeling of lost or missed opportunities. If you miss that bus, there will always be another one coming.
Surely, that's what must have run through Amanda Fefel's mind three years ago, when she pitched Catonsville to the brink of a state softball championship as a freshman. Fefel struck out seven that day against North Caroline and gave up five hits, only one of which left the infield. She was struck on the knee with a line drive in the sixth inning but continued.
She lost in the eighth, when a North Caroline runner, placed on second base thanks to that quirky international tiebreaker rule that puts a runner in scoring position in extra innings, scored on a throwing error. After the game, Fefel understandably told The Sun that the Comets would be back and would "do some damage."
Only now, three years later, as a relatively wizened senior, does the urgency of the moment hit Fefel, one of the area's best pitchers. Moments are fleeting, and championship opportunities are hardly givens.
"We were in states for the seniors, because it was their last year," Fefel said. "Getting there and losing was heartbreaking, because I knew we could have won. There was one hit that determined everything and it went to extra innings.
"We were young, as freshmen, and not mature enough to understand what was happening. I just want to get there to know how it actually feels to win it and be in the record books for Catonsville."
The Comets, ranked sixth in the area, have a solid chance to get through the Class 3A North region and into the state semifinals. They've certainly been there before, reaching the regional finals the past two seasons, losing to C. Milton Wright, 2-1, last year and to Fallston, 5-1, in 2004.
The good news for Catonsville is that in the latest Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association reclassification, both Harford County schools were moved out of the 3A North region, with C. Milton Wright going to 4A and Fallston shipped to a crowded 3A East region with schools from Anne Arundel and Howard counties.
That doesn't mean, however, that the Comets, who have won two of the past three Baltimore County championships, are taking a trip to Bachman Softball Park in Glen Burnie, the site of the semifinals, for granted. They'll still have to navigate their way past Towson and Franklin in the region, as well as Owings Mills.
To get better, coach Bill Nelson put together a tough schedule of games for the Comets, to test their mettle before the tournament. Catonsville posted a 2-0 season-opening win over then-No. 13 Mount Hebron, with games still to come against nonleague opponents North County and Chesapeake of Anne Arundel County.
"We made it [the schedule] as strong as we possibly could," said Nelson, in his 10th season. "Our primary goal is to make it to the states. If, along the way, we're fortunate and play very well and win the county championship, that's great. We need to be prepared for the regional tournament."
The Comets will be strong defensively, Nelson said, and they'll have some pop at the top of the lineup, with senior shortstop Mallory Clary and junior first baseman Kelly Dorsey. And they should get a solid contribution from senior center fielder Rachel Willhide when she returns from a broken arm later this season.
But this is clearly Fefel's team, and she appears ready to carry the Comets are far as she can. Fefel, who accepted a full scholarship to UMBC, went 14-2 last season with a 0.47 ERA and eight shutouts, including a perfect game last April against Bel Air, striking out 11.
"She has so many pitches," Nelson said. "She definitely throws it hard enough that she can blow it by hitters, but she also has a lot of movement in the ball. Sometimes, the movement is so great that the umpires get fooled. The ball's moving all over the place and they see where the catcher may catch the ball, but that's not where it crossed the plate."
For her part, Fefel says she has been developing her curve in the offseason toward a goal of getting herself on the level of Severna Park's Kaila Jenkins and her team on the same plateau as schools in Anne Arundel County, where five of the area's top 10 teams play.
"I know that's what you guys [the media] press all the time, Anne Arundel County," Fefel said. "It's the truth. I play with Kaila, [former Northeast pitcher] Lauren Hart and all them. They're on my [offseason] team. I love them to death. It's just that I think the team needs to get to that level in order to win states."
That would be a nice way to leave the stage without a regret.