all-county softball

Glenelg shortstop Leah Allen had a standout year, leading her team to the county title and earning Player of the Year honors. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda, Patuxent Homestead / June 13, 2012)

The phone and cable companies are always touting their bundles of technology wonders, from lightning fast Internet to hundreds of movies downloadable in seconds.

Selling Leah Allen as the top softball package in the county is a much easier task.

The Glenelg junior led her team in 12 offensive categories — everything from average (.526) and runs scored (32) to RBIs (25), on-base percentage (.570) and slugging percentage (.821) — and as a smooth, quick, fast-thinking shortstop, she is a defensive gem.

She has speed — she swiped a county-high 22 bases — and power, and led the league in home runs (7). Allen's the complete package and the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times softball Player of the Year.

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The award is "very nice. I figured there were so many seniors who did big things that I didn't think it would be me," said Allen, a three-year starter for Glenelg who earned all-county first-team honors in both her freshman and sophomore years.

"I feared her," whether she was at the plate, at short, or on the basepaths, said Mt. Hebron coach Chuck Struhar. "If she got on first, she'd be on third" in a blink of the eye, he said. In the final game of the regular season — a contest Glenelg had to win to claim sole possession of its fourth county title in five years — Struhar said Allen "robbed us of two hits."

And yet, as good as she is, Allen, a captain, is always looking ahead.

"In her eyes, she hasn't plateaued," said her coach, Ray Gerstner. "She's always looking to improve herself, and not just herself, but all those around her. She's already looking forward to next year."

So Leah and her father, Harold, are on the road every Sunday — unless there is a tournament in Colorado, Chicago, Rhode Island, or some other faraway place. For three-and-a-half hours, they drive to New Jersey so Leah can practice for two-and-a-half hours with her travel team, the under-18 Jersey Inferno, which is among the top teams in the nation.

It's been a natural progression, starting when she first walked out on the field at 6, and joined an under-12 travel team two years later.

"I've worked hard and I feel it's paid off," said Allen, who plays outfield for the Inferno. "These girls are amazing. Just playing with them pushes me and makes me do better. I know I'm never satisfied. I need to be better to keep up with these girls."

Allen brings that attitude — and the new skills she's learned — back to Glenelg, where she's earned a reputation as a smart player. That reputation is built on years of studying the game but, most of all, by being prepared. She leaves nothing to chance.

"I think everything through. I see where my runners are. I process everything before it happens. Softball is one of the most mental games because you have to process everything," she said about playing defense.

Allen admits she has weaknesses. "I get anxious. I love high pitches. Sometimes I make the pIay before I get the ball. I used to get down on myself (for making mistakes) but now I let it roll off me," she said. "Stuff happens."

Next year, she continued, "I'm going to focus on fielding the ball first before I make the play. And I am not going to swing for the fence but get those base hits."

She's a better hitter because of the Inferno, she added. "I would go up there (to the plate) thinking I'd hit every pitch until I saw it was a ball. But the way they teach hitting definitely helped. They made me wait until the ball is almost past me, rather than getting ahead of it."

Ironically, not one of Allen's home runs was a game-winner. Some were icing on the cake; some gave the Gladiators a temporary lead. But all boosted the team's confidence, especially in midseason when Glenelg (15-2 league, 16-7 overall) hit a low point before a solid finish to claim the county title.

Next year, "we will still be pretty strong. We have to fill (all-county senior outfielder Nykita Vernot's) spot. I feel like we have a strong chance and can make a run" for another county title and advance in the playoffs, said Allen.

Allen remembers two especially good games. One was that contest against Mt. Hebron, when the county title was on the line. "I was working hard to make little things happen. I knew we didn't want to lose that game. I had an error but I didn't let it bother me. It wasn't my best defensive game but offensively I think I helped my team."

The other memory is much more dramatic, and it will likely stick to her for a long time. After all, not everyone can help pull off a triple play. It came against Reservoir, with two on and no outs, and it started when Allen grabbed a line drive.