Player of the Year: Jessica Saunders, Spalding
Saunders made quite a splash when she went 7-2 with a 0.10 ERA last season as a freshman. This spring, she went off the charts. The sophomore right-hander picked up where she left off last season, leading the top-ranked Cavaliers to the inaugural Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference crown and a perfect 27-0 mark. Pitching one gem after another, Saunders saved her best for last with an 11-inning, one-hit shutout in a 1-0 win over Pallotti that gave the Cavaliers the Maryland Independent Schools' state championship. Mostly relying on the fastball and always able to find the corners, Saunders finished the season 17-0 with a stingy 0.27 ERA, allowing just 41 hits and five earned runs in 131 innings. Overpowering? Saunders struck out 200. "Jessica matured a great deal this season," said Spalding coach Linda Taylor. "No. 1, she has a lot of confidence in herself and, No. 2, she also has a lot of confidence in the people behind her. That really put her at ease." Much like her 2-0 shutout win in last season's Catholic League final against Seton Keough, Saunders tossed a one-hit, 3-0 shutout against Mount de Sales in the IAAM A tournament championship game, taking a perfect-game bid into the last inning.One of Saunders' biggest all-around efforts came in the championship game at the Chambersburg (Pa.) Tournament, which Spalding won for the first time in five tries. Against Chambersburg, she tossed a complete game two-hit shutout and also went 2-for-3 at the plate with two RBIs in a 3-0 win that ended a three-year winning streak for the host team.
Coach of the Year: Brian Love, North County
In his first five years as coach, Love and his Knights had their share of close calls in a quest for the program's first Class 4A state crown. In his sixth season, it was their time. Assembling a scrappy group that combined experienced leadership with talented newcomers, Love had his Knights playing their best ball when it counted most. The result was a series of firsts for the Ferndale program, ending with a 12-0 victory over Eleanor Roosevelt to capture the state championship. "To get out of the 4A East region is an accomplishment in itself, and we never knew how that felt," said Love, whose Knights finished with a 19-4 mark. "It helps to return six starters that know each other and played together for a long time. Then you throw in a couple of JV players who are talented, and that's a big plus." Before the season, Love defined each player's role , and after a 1-2 start, they remained poised. After a 3-1 loss to Northeast on April 19, the Knights didn't lose again, rattling off 12 straight victories, including a 6-2 win over Glen Burnie in the region final and a 2-1 eight-inning triumph against Springbrook in the state semifinal. "Going back to March, we had high expectations, and when we got off to the 1-2 start, there was no panic. We knew we had to be ready to play in May," Love said. And ready they were as evidenced by the tight 2-1 win over Springbrook that put them over the top in their first state tournament appearance. Trailing 1-0 in their final at-bat, a poised North County team responded with the needed run and then executed perfectly in the eighth to get the win.
Christina Bounelis, Glen Burnie
The versatile junior was the No. 3-ranked Gophers' fill-in-the-blanks player. Primarily their third baseman, Bounelis also played behind the plate as well as in the outfield, providing reliable defense at each position along with lineup options. There was no question where Bounelis hit in the batting order -- third -- and she constantly hit the ball hard. Bounelis batted .424 for the season with 15 runs, 14 RBIs and seven doubles in her second full varsity season. Also a strong leader, she was always able to pick up teammates after a tough loss to get them ready for the next time out. It's the second straight strong offensive season for Bounelis, who hit .558 as a sophomore last spring.
Brittany Boyd, North County
Every state championship team needs a pitcher it can rally behind. For the 4A state champion Knights, Boyd was the one. The hard-throwing sophomore won her last nine decisions -- capped by the No. 2 Knights 12-0 victory over Roosevelt in the final -- to finish the season 13-2 with a 0.85 ERA. Boyd matured on the mound in her second season on varsity, working the corners and mixing her pitches, while still relying on her fastball to register 135 strikeouts in 99 innings. Boyd also was equally imposing at the plate, hitting .284 with 17 RBIs and 11 runs scored.
Jamie Clingan, Inst. of Notre Dame
The senior second baseman enjoyed a record-breaking four-year career for the Indians. This spring, she set single-season marks with 33 hits and 27 stolen bases, which led to career standards for the program with 105 hits and 72 steals. The impressive numbers didn't stop there. As the Indians leadoff batter and catalyst, Clingan hit .367 with five doubles and 19 runs scored. She was nearly flawless fielding at second base, committing one error in 98 chances. Clingan accepted a softball scholarship at Coker College, a perennial top-20 Division II program in South Carolina.
Heather Frye, North County
One of the key additions that proved vital in the Knights' state championship run, Frye played more like a senior than a sophomore newcomer. One clutch at-bat really says it all -- a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh to tie the score in the Knights' 2-1 state semifinal victory over Springbrook. But the sophomore brought one of the area's purest swings to the plate all season, hitting .442 with 12 RBIs and 17 runs scored in her first varsity season. Frye played every outfield position, first base and third, also going 5-0 on the mound with a 1.24 ERA.
Rachel Herrick, Northeast
After excelling in a limited role on the mound last year as a sophomore, Herrick became the ace for the No. 4 Eagles and responded well, going 11-5 with a 0.89 ERA. With a good mix of pitches that were always around the plate, she finished with 86 strikeouts in 110 innings worked. She tossed seven shutouts, including regular-season two-hitters against state champ North County and No. 3 Glen Burnie. In the region opener against Douglass, she threw a no-hitter in a 9-0 victory. At the plate, Herrick hit .362 with 13 runs scored and, defensively on the mound, she had no errors in 131 chances.
Megan Hube, C. Milton Wright
While the Mustangs standout catcher was having her photo taken for the All-Metro team on Memorial Day, the school she will attend next year on a full softball scholarship, Oklahoma, was in the midst of capturing their first-ever NCAA Division I championship. With hard work and dedication, Hube posted staggering numbers to help lead the Mustangs to their 18-1 season. She hit .509 for the year, driving in 15 runs with 11 extra-base hits that helped produce an impressive .807 slugging percentage. Defensively, few base runners considered stealing on Hube, who picked off two runners from second base.
Keri Lounge, Spalding
The freshman second baseman stepped right in the middle of the area's most dangerous lineup and made her presence felt immediately. With quick bat speed that produced a pure swing and plenty of line drives, Lounge closed out her first season hitting .372 for the top-ranked Cavs. She made the most of each at-bat and came through with runners in scoring position, driving in 24 and scoring 19 more. With good range, a strong arm and understanding situations well, Lounge strengthened the middle of the Cavaliers infield.
Linda Parks, North County
Always the first to practice and last to leave, the Knights standout center fielder provided all the intangibles necessary in bringing home the 4A state title. Coach Brian Love said her biggest contribution was her leadership and fire. Parks started her four-year varsity career playing second base and first before solidifying the outfield the past two seasons. She finished this season hitting .349 with 11 RBIs and 15 runs. The Knights slogan throughout their postseason run -- "This is not our last game" -- came from Parks, who will attend the University of Tampa and try out for the softball team there as a walk-on.
Kerry Poisal, Mount de Sales
The four-year starter posted impressive offensive numbers and was able to match them defensively in center field. A switch-hitter, Poisal hit .368 with a .555 on-base percentage, and once on, good things happened for the Sailors. She scored 22 runs, drove in nine and stole 19 bases to set the pace. Playing a shallow center, Poisal was equally quick going side to side as well as tracking back to cover more ground. Completing the package was a strong arm, evidenced by the four runners she threw out at home and 10 other assists. A three-time All- Baltimore City/County first-teamer, Poisal will play at Radford University, where she earned an academic scholarship.
Lauren Pollock, Severna Park
Sharing time between first base and the mound, Pollock was the focal point in the Falcons' 13-win season. Bringing solid fundamentals, a pure swing and natural instincts to the diamond, the junior finished the year hitting .440 in the middle of the order, scoring 16 runs and driving in 14 more. And how's this for respect? Opposing pitchers walked her 14 times. Along with playing a smooth first base, Pollock was 8-4 with a 2.16 ERA, striking out 66 batters in 68 innings pitched. This marks the second straight year Pollock has earned first-team All-Metro honors.
Lindsey Ries, Chesapeake-AA
The senior brought excellent athleticism to the shortstop position and a smooth swing to the plate to play an integral part in the No. 5 Cougars' success. In her third season of varsity, Ries hit .390 with 11 RBIs and 14 runs scored. She was just as consistent in the field, getting to just about everything that came her way and recording outs with a strong arm. By season's end, she committed just four errors in 62 chances. Ries, also a first-team All-County defender in soccer last fall, finished out the spring with six doubles, a triple and a .468 on-base percentage.
Renee Springston, Northeast
The Eagles lost a number of seniors to graduation from last spring's Class 3A state championship team and needed someone to fill the leadership void. Enter Springston. Always making something positive happen at the top of the order, Springston finished the season hitting .375 with a team-high 30 runs to help lead the No. 4 Eagles (20-5) to the 3A state semifinals. The senior, a career .463 hitter in three-plus seasons, also had a fine glove at third with a .893 fielding percentage. Along with her 30 hits, Springston walked nine times, had five sacrifices and drove in six runs.
Tina Willis, Glen Burnie
Whenever the No. 3-ranked Gophers were in need of a spark, Willis often found a number of ways to be the supplier. In her second season of varsity, the standout sophomore combined speed and power as the Gophers leadoff hitter, also improving her defensive play at shortstop and producing key starts on the mound. Willis hit .362 -- smacking 12 extra-base hits, scoring 22 times and driving in 11. She went 4-2 on the mound with a 1.33 ERA and opponents hit .154 against her. In the 4A East region semifinals, Willis struck out 11 in a four-hit 1-0 shutout over No. 5 Chesapeake.
Katie Zitnay, Atholton
A second-team All-Metro selection last season, the senior pitcher made the jump to the area's first team after leading the No. 6 Raiders to the 2A state final. In going 21-4 on the season, Zitnay threw one perfect game, three no-hitters, two one-hitters and 10 shutouts with a 0.56 ERA. Adding a changeup to her mix of pitches and maintaining her pinpoint control, Zitnay had 81 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 170 innings. She was also a catalyst at the plate, hitting .420 with 24 RBIs and a team-leading 27 runs scored.
Kristen Schaper, Long Reach
Laura Siler, C. Milton Wright
Erin Taylor, Chesapeake-AA
Kelly Tiese, Catholic
Casey Brengle, Westminster
Crissy Suit, North County
Tine Ryals, Spalding
Denise Schultheis, Glen Burnie
Amanda Bile, River Hill
Caitlin Burns, North County
Kristen Bishoff, Chesapeake-AA
Meg Cowen, Spalding
Laura Angle, Centennial
Amanda Conley, Glen Burnie
Christine Sheridan, Spalding
Note: The All-Metro softball teams were selected by Glenn P. Graham after consultation with The Sun staff and area coaches.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun