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Mt. Hebron among teams looking to unseat Glenelg and Howard in softball

Baseball

The teams roll off the tip of their tongues almost instinctively. With Glenelg and Howard having combined to win each of the last three softball county titles, conversations among coaches regarding the favorites heading into this spring seem to almost always start with those two squads — neither of whom has finished outside the top four in the standings since 2010.

“We have a lot of respect for Howard and Glenelg … they’re very tough teams that have been there,” Mt. Hebron coach Chuck Struhar said. “They have good kids, good pitching and good coaching. It’s not easy winning a county title, so there’s something to be said for knowing what it takes to get to that level.”

Glenelg, last year’s county champions, returns Player of the Year Leah Allen to go along with a reliable pitcher in Mandy Bendix and a couple of second-team all-county performers, Colleen Regan and Toni Pritchard. Howard graduated 11 seniors from last season’s team that tied for second in the standings and had won the county title in 2011, but has the leadership and young talent to remain among the elite. Infielder Katie Wilkinson, a returning first-team honoree, is one of those Lions’ seniors.

The truth is, though, while the Gladiators and Lions certainly figure to be in the mix, this spring features plenty of challengers to the throne. Reservoir is coming off its best season in program history, having won 20 games and a region title in 2012, and Mt. Hebron brings back four all-county players from a squad that went 15-5 a year ago.

Junior Alli Bluhm, the only sophomore to make first-team all county last season, is one of the leaders of a Vikings’ squad some are picking as the preseason favorite.

Then there’s Hammond, Atholton, Marriotts Ridge and River Hill, all of which have been mentioned as potential contenders after finishing tightly bunched in the middle of the county last spring. Throw in a sleeper like Centennial, with pitcher Emily Bowman returning from a back injury, and you have the potential for a season full of intrigue.

“The past couple of years we’ve seen a lot more parity in the county and I expect that trend to continue this season,” Hammond coach Brad Speierman said. “I know there are a number of freshman around the county that will no doubt help build up some of the teams that lost key seniors from last year.”

There are early season tests scattered along the way for all the county’s contending squads, but none stands out more than a meeting between Glenelg and Howard on the second day of the season, March 22. Other highlights include the early-season play day at the Bachman Sports Complex featuring all 12 of the county’s public schools squaring off against teams from Anne Arundel County on March 23.

The showdown between the two counties is in its third year of existence.

First pitch

Here’s a glimpse at all of the county’s teams as the season gets underway:

Atholton

2012 record: 9-8 county, 9-9 overall

Coach: Bobby Baxter

Key players: Senior Melanie Berger (C); juniors Jamie Cardea (OF), Alex Herschman (P, 1B), Nikki Martin (SS), Kaya Roberts (1B/P), Maya Schwartz (2B); sophomores Amanda Petersen (3B) and Gina D’Asto (OF).

What you need to know: Baxter takes over an extremely young team that features just one senior. But Berger, that lone senior for the Raiders, and Schwartz fit the role of captains well and are the ideal duo to lead this group. “They clearly have the respect of their teammates and set a great example in practices,” Baxter said. “They have set an immediate tone for the season.”

The truth is, though, that even with its youth, Atholton still has eight girls with starting experience on its roster. That nucleus already having had a chance to build chemistry last year is something Baxter is banking on being an area of strength as things get going this spring.

Pitching and defense could be a strong point as well. Herschman is expected to be the team’s main pitcher.

“Alex has worked extremely hard in the off season,” Baxter said. “She comes into the spring with a positive outlook and exudes a quiet confidence.”

New additions to the varisty squad, Becky Schwab, Melissa Porras, Danielle Dolbow and freshman Miranda Thompson, are expected to contribute as well.

Centennial

2012 record: 6-11, 7-11

Coach: Kathryn Grimm

Key players: Senior Donna Coburn (2B) and Kelsey Grose (SS); junior Emily Bowman (P); freshman Emily Allen.

What you need to know: The Eagles graduated a huge class from last spring, leaving behind just four returning starters. But those girls coming back create a strong core — one that Grimm says will instrumental to the team’s success. “It will be nice to have their experience out on the field in high pressure games because that’s something our younger players haven’t been exposed to yet,” Grimm said.

Everything starts up the middle for Centennial, with pitching and middle infield play serving as the team’s backbone. Coburn and Grose, who hit over .300 last season, lock up second base and shortstop. But Grimm is especially excited about the return of Bowman on the mound after she missed 90 percent of last season with a back injury. As a freshman, Bowman struck out 93 batters and won five games.

The team’s early stretch of three straight games during the season’s second week against Marriotts Ridge, Howard and Atholton will tell a lot — so will the season opener against Glenelg.

Glenelg

2012 record: 15-2, 16-7 (county champion)

Coach: Ray Gerstner

Key players: Seniors Leah Allen (SS), Mandy Bendix (P/OF) and Marisa Saglimbeni (OF); junior Brooke Redmond (C); sophomore Toni Pritchard (3B).

What you need to know: The Gladiators came out on top of an extremely tight county championship race down the stretch last spring and seven starters and two pitchers are back from that squad. Allen returns to lead the way after garnering county Player of the Year honors thanks to her mix of power, speed and defensive skills. She led the county in home runs (7) and steals (22) and is one of three Glenelg captains this spring.

Joining her in that leadership position will be Bendix, a standout pitcher who is returning from an ACL injury that cost her most of last season, and Saglimbeni, who starts in right field and epitomizes what it means to be a team player according to Gerstner.

Bendix returning alongside Coleen Reagan (county-best 0.475 ERA) gives the Gladiators a terrific one-two punch on the mound. Gerstner says those two and the gloves behind them are the team’s backbone.

“The biggest strength of the team this year should be with the pitching and defense as there are many returning players and a lot of young talent willing to learn from the returning players,” he said.

Pritchard is definitely one to keep an eye on after leading the team with nine doubles last season. Morgan Perry hit .397 as a sophomore with 17 RBI. Also Redmond is an instrumental piece behind the plate as a third-year starter.

Hammond

2012 record: 11-6, 13-7

Coach: Brad Speierman

Key players: Seniors Lauren Hutchinson (OF), Jill Purdy (2B/3B), Christy Smith (OF), Samantha Speierman (P) and Katelynn Spingola; sophomores Emily Speierman (3B/P) and Keyuana Griffin (C).

What you need to know: In the eight years he’s been coaching at Hammond, Speierman says this year’s Golden Bears’ squad features the most senior leadership he’s ever had. There are seven seniors on the team, led by captains Purdy, Samantha Speierman and Spingola. “All three players bring different dynamics to their role as captains and I look forward to watching them continue to grow as leaders for us on the field this season,” coach Speierman said.

In all there are eight starters back, but there also should be strong contributions from juniors moving up from JV like Maya Phillips and An-Drea Williams, along with incoming freshman Emily Dowdall. Senior speedsters Tifani Foster and Sydney Cannon should also challenge for time.

Four players that hit .300 or better last season are back, including Purdy and Spingola who combined for 43 hits and 47 RBI a season ago. Emily Speierman batted .535 with 21 RBI and Griffin had 17 hits and 11 RBI last season.

Pitching wise, Samantha Speierman is the Bears’ ace and she returns off a season where she had 100 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.72. The younger Speierman, Emily, also was solid in the circle last season with 66 strikeouts and a 2.55 ERA. Sophomore Caroline Goyne could see innings as well.

Howard

2012 record: 14-3, 18-5

Coach: Chuck Rice

Key players: Seniors Jodi Bahrijczuk (IF), Julie Barnhouse (OF) and Katie Wilkinson (3B); juniors Kayli Paugh (P) and Courtney Merson (P).

What you need to know: The Lions have become a staple at the top of the county, finishing with three or less county losses each of the last three seasons. Staying there, though, will be a tall task this spring after losing six all-county players to graduation. The good news is that Rice says he has three very capable leaders in Bahrijczuk, Wilkinson and Barnhouse.

“All three girls have great leadership qualities,” Rice said. “Two of them have been to the state championship game and have a ton of experience to help this very young team this year. We lost 11 seniors from last year so we have to reload and the underclassmen have to step up.”

The pitching staff is young, featuring a pair of juniors that didn’t get a ton of time behind all-county standouts Kensey O’Neill and Sammi O’Connor last spring. The potential is certainly there, however. “(They) have summer ball experience but no varsity level experience yet,” Rice said. “I’m hoping that the summer ball helps in the early part of the season.”

Wilkinson is a great one to have leading the offense, coming off a junior year where she hit .500, belted four homeruns and picked up 19 RBI.

Long Reach

2012 record: 2-15, 3-16

Coach: Melissa Boardman

Key players: Seniors Nolena Ard (C) and Noelle Colligan (1B); junior Emily Forbus (3B); freshman Isa Carunungan (P).

What you need to know: The Lightning lost four starters, including their entire outfield, but there is a new wave of players that are ready to step right in and contribute, according to Boardman. Everything starts with the team’s three captains, Colligan, Ard and Forbus.

“These girls are natural leaders on the team and have already helped their teammates with the first two week of the season,” Boardman said. “They love softball and want to see everyone on the team succeed and improve.”

Ard hit for a .421 average last season and Colligan produced four doubles and a triple.

But as the Lightning attempt to make positive strides after winning just three times last spring, the real determinant of success will be the team’s pitching. Boardman says there are more pitchers on the team than she’s ever had in her four years as coach and Carunungan is a freshman that tops that list of capable arms on the mound.

Marriotts Ridge

2012 record: 8-8, 12-10

Coach: Renard Parson

Key players: Seniors Jess Dubbs (OF/SS), Katie Gottuck (OF), Lindsay Kellner (2B) and Danielle Lein (1B); juniors Kelly Hamilton (3B/P) and Katie Smith (P); sophomore Alex Cwalina.

What you need to know: The Mustangs don't name captains, but with six returning starters that are plenty of candidates. And Parson says he is indeed hoping for a captain by committee approach. “I expect everyone to take a leadership role at one point or another during the course of the season,” he said.

Pitching is likely to be at the top of the list when it comes to the team’s strengths and Smith is a major reason for that. She’s back after starting in the circle almost every game as a sophomore. “Katie has worked very hard in the offseason and if she is on her game, several team are going to struggle against us,” Parson said.

In addition to the team’s returners, Dubbs is expected to make contributions after starring at Long Reach a season ago. She hit for a .491 average with five doubles for the Lightning as a junior.

The team’s first seven games will tell a lot about where the Mustangs are, with match-ups against county powerhouses Howard and Glenelg on tap along with some tough tests in the Franklin Tournament.

Mt. Hebron

2012 record: 13-4, 15-5

Coach: Chuck Struhar

Key players: Seniors Bridgette Vogan (C) and Erin Vogan (3B); juniors Alli Bluhm (SS), Sammi Cadigan (1B) and Aaliyah Montague-Bass (OF); sophomore Maddie Bennett (P).

What you need to know: The Vikings were right there last season, vying for a county title right up until the final weeks of the season. That experience, along with bringing back six returning starters from that group, has Struhar extremely excited about the possibilities this spring. “We were very young last year, starting a lot of freshmen and sophomores, and we learned a lot,” Struhar said. “We know what we did last year, identified things that cost us games, and now we’re ready to see if we can go one step further.”

The crazy thing is that this is still a young team, featuring just three seniors. Sisters Bridgette and Erin Vogan each made second-team all-county as juniors and will be captains alongside Lindsey Bishop this year.

Depth on the mound will definitely be working in Mt. Hebron’s favor, with Maddie Bennett, Sammi Cadigan and freshman Evelyn Buehlman all hard throwers that are also accurate.

At the same time, this figures to be one of the county’s top hitting teams as well. Alli Bluhm and Bennett were the county’s top two hitters from an average standpoint last year, hitting .600 and .597, respectively. The two of them also combined for 25 doubles. All six starters back for Mt. Hebron hit .350 or better at the plate last season.

An out-of-county showdown with Broadneck will be a nice early-season test.

Oakland Mills

2012 record: 1-16, 3-17

Coach: Skip Yarn

Key players: Seniors Alexis Shelton (3B) and Chadli Pittman (1B/OF); juniors Tori Gordon (P) and Heidi Larsen (SS).

What you need to know: There are a couple key players back from last season for the Scorpions, starting with team leaders like Gordon, Larsen, Shelton and Pittman. But as Yarn points out this is a group ready to wipe the slate clean. “We are looking at this year as a new beginning,” Yarn said. “Several players are returning from last season, but nevertheless we are still young in both age and experience.”

With that youth, focusing on short-term goals will be a key in terms of changing the culture of the program. The little things are what add up to eventual results in the standings.

“We will simply prepare to play our game and try to get better and improve from game to game,” Yarn said. “Out goal is to show steady improvement … I certainly hope that Oakland Mills can rise above their past and surprise a few teams.”

Reservoir

2012 record: 14-3, 20-4 (3A state semifinalist)

Coach: Julie Frisvold

Key players: Juniors Hannah Pinion (2B), Tara Thompson (CF) and Caroline Winand (1B); sophomores Anna Bennett (C), Sophia Sommerkamp (SS) and Emily Wang (P).

What you need to know: It’s a county filled with young talent this spring and the Gators are no exception. Coming off the program’s first 20-win campaign, four starters are back and there’s just one senior on the roster. That might mean a few growing pains, although don’t expect too much of a fall off. “We’re going to have to find our way in the early going, but we have a tremendous amount of potential,” Frisvold said. “We have to find a way to make that potential show. The girls that graduated really set the standard for Reservoir softball and now we just have to continue that.”

Winand was a second-team selection last year as a sophomore when she hit for a .448 average to finish second on the team. Bennett and Pinion also are coming off seasons where they hit for averages above .300.

While the juniors will be asked to be leaders, the six sophomores and freshman Carly Clarke will be just as important. Wang, a lefty pitcher really developed last season, and Sommerkamp has a great glove at shortstop.

River Hill

2012 record: 7-10, 9-11

Coach: Marni Rosenbaum

Key players: Seniors Megan Sterling (OF) and Kat Varga (2B); sophomores Courtney Colosimo (OF/P), Kinsey Johnson (3B) and Sara Mascone (C).

What you need to know: There are nine returning varsity players for the Hawks, all of which have starting experience. Rosenbaum threw a number of extremely young players into the fire last year and, while there were growing pains, that decision should pay dividends this spring. “We got experience last year and this year we are ready to come in focused and ready to play,” Rosenbaum said.

There were five freshmen on the varsity last year and those five are back, along with two more sophomores, to account for more than half the roster. Colosimo, who hit .449 last spring, and Johnson, already a leader defensively, are two of those standout sophomores.

But for all the youth, the heart of the team still lies in seniors Sterling and Varga. Sterling, a four-year starter, was the team’s top hitter last season with a .512 batting average. Varga is also a four-year starter who hit .417 as a junior and will be playing field hockey at Cornell next year.

Colosimo is slated to be one of the team’s top pitchers along with Sabrina Curtiss and Kristy Selby.

Wilde Lake

2012 record: 1-15, 2-16

Coach: Kristina Dronenburg

Key players: Seniors Kourtney Harrison (C/3B), Tina Heil (C/1B) and Rose O’Rourke (P); juniors Olivia Harrison (P) and Brittany Kuntz (2B/SS).

What you need to know: The Wildecats have undergone a couple of rebuilding seasons since Dronenburg took over the program in 2011, but the good news is that there is experience in place now with eight seniors and four juniors on the team. “Our returners have now played for me for either two or three season … that is proving to be incredibly beneficial,” Dronenburg said. “They know what to expect from me and I know what to expect from them.”

Kourtney Harrison, a four-year varsity starter, and O’Rourke, a three-year varsity starter, are the heart and soul of the team. Harrison hit for a .419 average last season to lead the team and O’Rourke is the team’s top pitcher, having improved each season since she was a sophomore.

Olivia Harrison will help with the pitching duties and also is strong at the plate. Heil is a three-year varsity player and has really improved according to Dronenburg. But the real wild card for the Wildecats may be their team speed this season with stolen base threats like Kuntz.

“We have the fastest team that we’ve had since I’ve been coaching at Wilde Lake,” Dronenburg said. “If we can get girls on base, we can make things exciting on the base paths.”

One other player to keep an eye on is Marissa Sciabarra, who joins the varsity squad after playing JV baseball last year for the Wildecats.

Chapelgate

2012 record: 5-6 IAAM B Conference, 11-8

Coach: John Isaac

Key players: Senior Clara Sevy (SS); sophomores Phoebe Cleaver (P/1B) and Bethanne Venkatesan (P).

What you need to know: Isaac, in his 10th year leading the Yellowjackets, expects big things from his squad that brings back eight starters. His line-up is extremely balanced and can hurt teams in a number of ways.

“We have power and speed at the plate,” he said. “(We have) two slappers that lead off with 2.9-second speed and our three through seven hitters have home-run power.”

Venkatesan is a wonderful two-way player, excelling as the team’s top pitcher and also coming off a season where she hit .475 at the plate. She was named to the all-conference team. Sevy also was a standout with the bat, hitting .410 with 28 runs scored as a junior.

Cleaver is expected to excel as well, boasting a great arm and a .320 average at the plate as a freshman.

Chapelgate will test itself early on against four IAAM A Conference teams, along with games against Hereford and Catonsville. In B league play, the top teams Chapelgate will be battling for a title with figure to be McDonogh, Garrison Forest and St. Pauls.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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