Top-notch competition

Players learning skills early and practicing them year-round helps 4A coaches field quality teams

Varsity Softball

March 19, 2009|By Todd Karpovich | Todd Karpovich,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Chesapeake-Anne Arundel coach Don Ellenberger believes in the theory that playing a demanding schedule during the regular season helps prepare teams for the postseason.

That's why the two-time defending Class 4A state champion has early-season tests against No. 3 Archbishop Spalding, No. 14 Glenelg and Seton Keough.

"My philosophy has always been you have to play the best to be the best," Ellenberger said. "The only way I am going to find out if my team can handle pressure is to go out and play the good teams."

Then again, Ellenberger doesn't really need to look any further than his own county to find top competition. Teams from the Class 4A East region, which is made up mostly of Anne Arundel County teams, have won the state championship 12 times since 1989.

Ellenberger credits the success of the region to quality pitching and the number of players who compete year-round.

"If you've got the dominant pitcher and solid defense and hitting to go with it, you're going to be battling with anybody at any time," Ellenberger said. "Most of the schools that come through 4A that we play all the time are usually that type of ballclub."

This season, two of the area's top pitchers, Chesapeake-AA's Lauren Gibson and Broadneck's Kourtney Salvarola, will help their teams battle for supremacy in Anne Arundel, the region and the state.

Gibson, a Tennessee-bound senior and the two-time All-Metro Player of the Year, was 17-2 with a 1.23 ERA last season, striking out 165 batters in 120 innings. She has also put up impressive offensive numbers, hitting .500 with 34 runs, 29 RBIs and eight homers.

"Everybody will be happy this is her last year," Ellenberger said.

Broadneck coach Reese Kiple, an assistant last year who takes over for the late Jim Ware, said the depth of talent in the region is due in part to players coming out of the Lake Shore Softball Association. Kiple, who is Salvarola's stepfather, said players learn the fundamentals early and that the skills from countless repetitions carry over at the high school level.

Chesapeake is still the team to beat, he said, but Broadneck should be right on the Cougars' heels. The two-time defending county champion Bruins have beaten Chesapeake four out of six times over the past two seasons, but Chesapeake got both of its victories in the regional final.

"Chesapeake has got to be the team to beat until somebody beats them," Kiple said. "The best postseason game has probably been between us and Chesapeake, and we have to play each other in the region."

In last year's regional championship game, Broadneck opened a two-run lead in the third inning, but Chesapeake scored 10 unanswered runs and held on for a 10-6 victory.

Salvarola was on the mound for Chesapeake's only two losses last season. She finished the year at 12-3 with a 1.28 ERA and 130 strikeouts.

"Our main goal that we set Day One, even before tryouts, was to finally win the regional championship," said Salvarola, a junior who has committed to South Florida. "We always strive for that at practice. It's kind of hard to win those two games and then lose the one that matters."

Also competing in the 4A East region from Anne Arundel is North County, which won state titles in 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2005.

Knights coach Tommy Thompson said his team will be strong defensively and has some players who can hit, but it will be tough to stay with the pitchers at Broadneck and Chesapeake.

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