Any athlete gets a thrill out of winning a league championship. But the girls on the Charles Carroll Chargers 12-under softball team got an even bigger thrill this year. They won two.
And what's more, they did it without losing a game (20-0-1).
What's amazing is the fact that this was a brand new team formed last August. In fact, the Charles Carroll rec softball group's entire Chargers travel softball program isn't much older than that. It's been around only two years, itself.
The 12-under group began play last autumn. But its inexperience hurt it against more seasoned competition.
"We didn't have a lot of time to jell. We struggled in the fall Central Maryland League. And we played about .500 in two USSSA tournaments," coach Rick Leishear said.
Over the winter and into this spring, Leishear and assistant coaches Jim Rodriguez and Josh Ritz worked their kids hard to improve their play.
Leishear explained the regimen.
"We drilled them on fundamentals," he said. "If you can't throw and play defense, you can't play at this level. They got tired of this, but they knew that if they caught on, they would win."
The practice was needed because this spring, the team had a full plate. It played in five USSSA tournaments and also in both the Mason-Dixon and Central Maryland softball leagues.
The tournaments turned out so-so for the local girls. Most of the team's 11 players are 11 years old, and they were generally playing against 12-year-olds. Additionally there were three new players to work into a team that wasn't that experienced to begin with.
Playing as a USSSA Class C team, the Chargers were 7-7 in USSSA tournament games. They never finished higher than fifth of 18.
"We'd start out well on Saturday, but then lay an egg the first game on Sunday," Leishear said. "But we got better the more we played. We won three of our last five games."
They were much better in league play though.
They went 7-0-1 to take first in the Mason Dixon League's 12-under division. The Chargers tied the Reisterstown Panthers 7-7 in their last regular season game.
They were second in the league to the North Carroll Hotshots in runs scores with 120. But they allowed 46, the fewest.
They continued to roll by going 3-0 in the league's postseason tournament. The Chargers swept Finksburg, Hotshots and then Reisterstown in the championship game, going 10-0-1.
While he may have expected to do well in the Mason-Dixon, which is basically a rec-level league, Leishear was rather surprised that his team was also unbeaten in the CML.
"We knew this was a tough league, but we felt we could compete with every team. And the further we went, the better chance we thought we had to compete,"Leishear said.*
The key for him was the season's third game. It came against the Freedom Firebirds, one of the 12-under loop's strongest teams.
"We were loosing 6-4 in the top of the last inning, but then we scored six runs to beat them 10-6," Leishear said. "That's the game that got us kick started."
The Chargers went on to a 10-0 regular season, first place record in the 12-under division. The opening playoff game was an easy win, a 13-0 blanking of the Winfield Sting.
But the second and third games were against another Winfield Sting team, this one headed by Tim Sanders. His outfit had moved up to Class B during the season. The Chargers knew they would have their hands full.
They trailed 3-0 in their opening game before scoring four to pull it out 4-3. They also faced the Sting in the final game.
"We went ahead 4-0, but then they scored three," Leishear said. "We went ahead 10-3 but they came back. We hung on to won 10-9."
The win was a big boost to his girls. In addition to winning their second consecutive league championship and staying undefeated, they also beat a Class B team for the title.
Leishear credited part of this year's improvement to what the girls did on the field and part to intangibles.
"Our pitching was strong all weekend, and the hitting was contagious," he said. "The girls got to know each other. They came together on and off the field. Finally, they came to believe in each other."
Next year, the team moves up to under-14 and new challenges.
But the biggest challenge of all will be to approximate a season in which it went undefeated and won two championships.