Hereford's Laura Blama took off last season after having a baby, yet she was never far from the game. The coach attended all of the Bulls' contests in 2012, despite not being at the helm.
Now, she is back on the sideline for a third season, and couldn't be more thrilled.
"I missed the competitive aspect of the game," said Blama, a third-year coach. "It's much different sitting on the top of the hill watching than being in the dugout and making decisions. It's so great to be back. It's a wonderful group of players. I think it's one of the most athletic teams Hereford has had."
Blama can talk all day about the Bulls, and her expectations are higher than ever.
Although Hereford has been good — posting a combined 25-11 record — the last two years, Blama thinks they will be even better this season.
The Bulls have fallen in the past two Class 3A North Regional semifinals to Eastern Tech and North Harford, respectively.
"We really have the potential to be in the regional championship," Blama said. "And I really think we have the ability to be in the Baltimore County championship game, which Hereford hasn't done in awhile."
Blama's confidence is based in part on junior pitcher LeAnne Collins, a three-year ace who has shown steady improvement. Last year, Collins went 9-3 with a 1.26 ERA in 78 innings while striking out 128 batters.
This year, she's 3-2 with 42 strikeouts in 33 innings and a 2.97 ERA.
"She is up there with the best pitcher in the county, (such as) Jordan Cargile, of Eastern Tech," Blama said. "I think she is reading the batters this year and making better decisions. I don't think she is trying to do it all herself because we have a good defense behind her."
Collins is working with new sophomore catcher Lizzie Bienert, a former junior varsity standout.
"Catching one of the top pitchers in the county is a lot of pressure for a sophomore," Blama said. "She has filled in that role very nicely."
Three outfielders — senior Melissa Wallace, junior Maddie Crowley and sophomore Catie Denz — are also part of a strong defense.
"I would say we have one of the best outfields in Baltimore County, and definitely one of the best outfields Hereford has ever had," Blama said. "We have tremendous speed and our girls are really able to track the ball."
If the defense struggles, at least Collins can count on her own batting prowess (she's hitting .647) to help.
The Bulls are batting .333 as a team, led by Wallace (.467), Denz (.375), sophomore shortstop Caprice Roche (.357), Bienert (.333) and Crowley (.313).
"This is my best offense, from top to bottom, of the lineup," Blama said. "I might not have the super sluggers that I've had in the past, but, from top to bottom, we can put together hits."
Hereford started out the season by beating Dulaney, Perry Hall and Loch Raven.
Collins had some eye-catching games. She struck out 14 in a complete-game, two-hit gem against Dulaney.
She also dominated Perry Hall, tossing a one-hitter while striking out eight.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, the defense wasn't working as well in their next two games, an 11-1 loss to Eastern Tech and a 10-7 setback to North Harford.