Sometimes in sports, defense is even more important than offense. Defense can intimidate other teams.
Such was the case with Howard High this season and its chief intimidator was senior catcher Kaci Frick, the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times Softball Player of the Year, who led her team to its first state runner-up finish and a 21-3 record with defensive skills that set her apart from other players.
"No one wanted to steal on her because of her reputation," Reservoir coach Julie Frisvold said.
Howard County players rarely even tried, but when Chesapeake-AA sent two girls stealing in the District V championship game, Frick cut them both down at second base.
"She had the ability to change the game," Howard coach Dave Vezzi said. "She always kept the force out in play at second base, because teams would not steal on her, and that means a lot. Her presence was a big part of our success."
Vezzi tried to emphasize doing the little things to his team, and Frick, who made just one error, led the way.
"She didn't have a passed ball all season," Vezzi said. "The little things she did made her deserving of what she got (Player of Year). She was the best defensive catcher I saw all year, bar none."
Frick caught two fine pitchers, Kensey O'Neill and Sammi O'Connor, both juniors and both with different styles. Although Vezzi called the pitches, Frick had to understand her pitchers' strengths and weaknesses and keep them focused and working at peak efficiency.
"The toughest part of catching is working with the pitchers," Frick said. "You have to be smart about the game. The catcher is the one player who sees everything and has to be in charge of the game."
There was never any doubt that Frick was in charge, whether she was aggressively trying to pick a runner off base or being a vocal team captain.
Her pitchers particularly appreciated her attention to detail and astute observations.
"She framed my pitches perfectly," O'Neill said. "And she could always tell me what I was doing wrong. It was also great to know that if a runner got on she was going to throw them out."
Frick was a force offensively as well this season after struggling at the plate for three seasons. She batted either fourth or fifth in the lineup all season and posted a .443 average (27-for-61) with 22 RBIs.
She had two hits against Megan Hyson, Chesapeake-AA's premier pitcher, and two more in the state semifinal against Damascus.
That's pretty good considering she had been the designated hitter for most of her four-year career.
"I was not in the lineup regularly until this year," she said. "I struggled with my hitting those years and was distraught about it, but for the past two years I had a hitting coach, and I made adjustments and improved and was proud this year that I was in the four or five hole."
Frick plays for the Maryland Chill club team that finished in the top 25 at nationals in Texas last year. She's been playing softball since she was 6.
"I tried other sports, but never felt the same about them as I did about softball," she said. "I really am passionate about it."
Frick will get to extend that passion by playing softball at Roanoke next year.
Named to the all-county first team are:
Haylie Goheen, Atholton, senior. A workhorse who pitched in every game, the Player of the Year nominee hurled 10 shutouts and gave up no earned runs in 15 of her starts. A perfect game and four no-hitters made for a memorable season. She also batted .471 and scored 32 runs. "She was clearly the whole package," Raiders coach Michael Koplow said. "She called her own game and was an offensive powerhouse."
Sammi O'Connor, Howard, junior. Remembered especially for her control, she walked only eight batters in 73 innings and allowed six earned runs and 28 hits while posting a 9-2 record. "She stays focused on the batter and doesn't get rattled, Howard coach Dave Vezzi said. Only one hit kept her from a perfect game against Marriotts Ridge.
Kensey O'Neill, Howard, junior. Her rise was her most effective pitch which led to O'Neill recording 108 strikeouts in 73 innings. She walked just 12 and allowed 30 hits and four earned while compiling a 12-1 record. "She had a phenomenal year," Vezzi said. "She was cool under pressure." A bloop hit prevented her from pitching a perfect game in the state semifinal against Damascus. O'Neill also batted .366.
Amy Bresson, Reservoir, junior. Her knowledge of the game made her especially valuable. "She knew more about softball than any other player I had this year," Gators coach Julie Frisvold said. "Because of that I could trust her at catcher."
Bresson's .605 on-base percentage, .763 slugging percentage and .593 batting average made her a standout. She also made 12 putouts.
Amanda Segrist, Glenelg, senior. The Babe Ruth of Howard County, the first baseman blasted a league-leading seven home runs, making her Glenelg's all-time home run champ at 15. She holds the school record of 103 career RBIs after driving in 36 runs this season and batted .468. "She's one of Glenelg's career best players," coach Dean Sheridan said. Segrist has signed a letter of intent to play at Division II Indiana (Pa.) University.
Melanie Slayton, Atholton, senior. A coach's dream leadoff batter, she walked 20 times with an on-base average of .500. The four-year starter scored 33 runs and batted .439 with 29 hits. Defensively, she made one error. "Because we had Haylie pitching, a lot of balls got hit to Melanie on the right side," coach Michael Koplow said.
Leah Allen, Glenelg, sophomore. Her 13 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases showed she possesses both speed and power. She had six triples and four home runs. "We've had four All-Met shortstops at Glenelg and she is potentially better than all of those," coach Dean Sheridan said. "On defense, she attacks the ball. She just does everything extremely well." Allen batted .531 with 34 hits and 31 RBIs and was a nominee for Player of the Year.
Katie Wilkinson, Howard, sophomore. Time and again, the third baseman made big defensive plays for the Lions with her quick reflexes, sure hands and strong arm while committing one error all season. Offensively, she led the Lions with 30 hits and tied for the team lead with seven doubles while batting .441. "Katie is a quality hitter who was strong in the playoffs and our rock at third base," Vezzi said.
Amanda Bendix, Glenelg, sophomore. This leadoff batter hit five home runs and five doubles, scored 29 runs, batted .433 and had an on-base average of .519. "She's an unselfish player and the team's sparkplug," said Dean Sheridan, who also had to use her at pitcher part of the season. Bendix responded with a 7-1 record and an 0.88 ERA. "Whatever the team needed in order to win, she'd do it," Sheridan said.
Megan Maloney, Reservoir, junior. "She covered three-quarters of the outfield and her communication with other players prevented many runs from scoring," coach Julie Frisvold said. A Player of the Year nominee, Maloney's 43 hits led the county and 11 were for extra bases, including eight doubles. She triggered two game-ending double plays, slugged .806 and batted .597. "She was a dream to have," Frisvold said.
Kayleigh Shaul, Glenelg, senior. Her five outfield assists from right field this season catapulted her into the record books as Glenelg's all-time outfield assist leader. "She has the best arm right field to third base in my 21 years at Glenelg," Sheridan said. "She has accuracy and velocity and the ball gets there without bouncing. Shaul batted .431 and started every game for four years.
Juliana Natoli, Howard, junior. The team leader in RBIs (23), walks (16), triples (four), on-base average (.548) and runs scored (23), Natoli switched to shortstop from third base this season and made just one error. "Defensively, I haven't seen anyone better," Vezzi said. "And she hit well at the end of the year." Natoli batted .421 and got two hits against Damascus in the state semifinal.