Softball preview

Mt. Hebron High School's Bridgette Vogan (Staff photo by Jen Rynda / March 20, 2012)

Little more than a week ago, it was pretty easy for most county softball pundits to predict who'd be the county champion by the middle of May.

After all, Howard has the best pitching combo — Kensey O'Neill and Samantha O'Connor — and five returning all-county players. The Lions not only won the league title last May, but were a runner-up in the state playoffs.

On paper Howard looked good. Really good. And still does.

But Glenelg has given the pundits pause. With Ciara Davis' stunning, two-out home run in the bottom of the seventh, Glenelg beat Howard, 2-1, in the season opener last week.

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Was it an upset? A fluke? Is Glenelg now the team to beat, or is it still Howard? Or maybe Reservoir, which has the county's top hitter in Megan Maloney? Or maybe…

"I'm not sure this was an upset. Every year Glenelg and Howard play, it's a dog fight," said Howard's new coach, Chuck Rice. "I think every time you lose to your rival, it's disappointing, but it was the first game of the season. We're going back to practice … and get ready for the next game."

The rematch is set for April 25. "I can't tell you which team will be better when we play again," Glenelg's Dean Sheridan said, "but this was a good win for us."

Rice said there are other teams to worry about. "Mt. Hebron was young and good last year and they are getting better each year. Plus, they have a seasoned coach in Chuck Struhar. Never count them out. The Vikings have a good mix of Vogans."

That would be the twins, Erin, a pitcher, and Bridgette, a catcher. But they are versatile, giving Struhar a lot of options in his lineup.

So there's a problem with making predictions, especially in this county. On any given day, any team can be a winner.

But Glenelg and Howard sure look good.

"The best pitching of all, though, is still at Howard. With O'Neill and O'Connor, they will remain the team to beat and will make another run for a state title as well," said Tee Dronenburg, once a star at Howard and now coaching at Wilde Lake.

Howard has "experienced pitchers who can really make unprepared batters look silly," added Centennial's new coach, Katie Grimm. She believes her Eagles are just a few hits away from being among the "elite" again in Howard County, though they lost their first game to the powerful Reservoir team. Maloney had four hits, including a home run and a triple to lead Reservoir.

With one loss, Howard will need some help from rivals. But Glenelg too will need some help from rivals.

So go out on a limb and make a prediction if you must. The only prediction that is safe to make is this: It will be an interesting season.

Games to see

The rematch between Glenelg and Howard is April 25. Other early games to see:

April 3: Howard at Centennial; April 10: Glenelg at Centennial; April 13: Mt. Hebron at Reservoir.

On the diamond

Here's what to expect from county teams: