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Howard County 2021 softball preview

The 2021 Howard County softball season is scheduled to kick off on May 7.
The 2021 Howard County softball season is scheduled to kick off on May 7. (photo courtesy of Israel Carunungan)

There are no divisions, postseason tournaments or unbalanced schedules. For area softball programs, it’s a straightforward path to winning a county championship in this condensed season ahead.

There are just 11 county games on the schedule, down from 16 in 2019, which means that each of the teams will face off against one another once. The team with the best record at season’s end will be crowned as the county champion.

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Howard has won outright or shared three of the last four county titles, including finishing as co-champions with Hammond in 2019. The Lions, Marriotts Ridge, Reservoir and River Hill have been garnering the most buzz during the preseason, but several coaches also have their eyes on Wilde Lake potentially producing the program’s first winning season in more than a decade.

The season is set to end by June 4 because there is still the potential for regional and state tournaments in June, but that will not be determined until a vote by the Maryland Superintendents of Schools on May 18.

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Here’s a look at all 12 county teams ahead of Opening Day on Friday:

Atholton

Atholton pitcher Katie Saylor delivers against Long Reach.
Atholton pitcher Katie Saylor delivers against Long Reach. (photo courtesy of Israel Carunungan)

Coach: Allyson O’Neill (fourth season)

2019 record: 2-14, 3-16

Top players: Seniors Natalie May (OF), Marisa Patel (SS/OF) and Sheila Smitson (C); junior Katie Saylor (P); sophomores Kyra Holtje (P/IF) and Morgan Ryan (P).

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Coach’s report: The Raiders have five returners from their varsity team from a season ago, including a four-year varsity player in Patel who is expected to be a leader and one of the team’s more versatile weapons. Among the younger contingent, Holtje is ready to break out as someone who brings great power and control to the game both in the circle and at the plate.

O’Neill said she expects pitching overall to be an area of strength, with three different options that all bring something different to the table. The infield will feature Ryan, Alli Monch, Fiona Wallace, Lydia Yerger and Gianna DeSousa at different points in the season. Freshman Natalia Flores-Rosales, meanwhile, is a speedster expected to contribute immediately.

“Although we are a younger team, I think that the energy and knowledge they all come to the field with will help us in every game,” O’Neill said. “I am really excited to be back on the field and ready to see our team take on the season.”

Centennial

Hammond's Kaylee Beahm is forced out at home as Centennial's Gussie Ruckdeschel takes the throw during a game in 2019.
Hammond's Kaylee Beahm is forced out at home as Centennial's Gussie Ruckdeschel takes the throw during a game in 2019. (Doug Kapustin / For Baltimore Sun Media)

Coach: Ed Fowler (first season)

2019 record: 9-6, 10-8

Top players: Juniors Madison Ceglia (P), Allison Keen (3B) and Gussie Ruckdeschel (C); freshman Nicole Cavey (P/SS).

Coach’s report: Fowler takes over the varsity coaching position after spending the last three years leading the Eagles’ JV program to winning records. There are just four returning players after Centennial graduated a large senior class a season ago, but there is some young talent to build around.

“We have large shoes to fill with seven players that graduated, but this group is up to the task” Fowler said. “From day one of our shortened season, the girls have been working extremely hard and have really enjoyed each other. Either on Google Meets or on the field, they have given us everything. The county will look very different this year and so will Centennial, but we will be ready for whatever comes our way.”

Ruckdeschel was one of the team’s top hitters as a freshman in 2019, posting a .417 batting average to go with 11 runs scored and 11 RBI.

Glenelg

Glenelg's Sage Huber tries to haul in a high throw as River Hill's Allie Young slides into third.
Glenelg's Sage Huber tries to haul in a high throw as River Hill's Allie Young slides into third. (Doug Kapustin / For Baltimore Sun Media)

Coach: Carly Gregory (first season)

2019 record: 9-7, 13-9

Top players: Seniors Sage Huber (MIF) and Jordyn Woodling (OF); junior Haley Markel (MIF).

Coach’s report: The Gladiators have tremendous experience up the middle with the team’s three captains of Huber, Markel and Woodling forming a “power triangle in the middle of the field,” according to first-year coach Gregory.

Huber was a second-team All-County selection as a sophomore in 2019, hitting .489 with 20 runs scored, 10 stolen bases and six extra-base hits. As for the new faces, Gregory says to keep an eye on freshmen Reese Holden and Adele Chapin as immediate contributors.

“Being new to the Glenelg program, I haven’t gotten to see the girls in full game situations, but from what we have done in practice I think our defense will be our strong point,” Gregory said. “We have solid depth in multiple positions, with strong defense and offense. We also have strong leadership from top to bottom on the team. These girls have meshed well and have great playing chemistry.”

Hammond

Hammond center fielder Abbie Weirich makes a lunging catch on a sac fly off the bat of River Hill's Jenna Kenyon in the second inning. The Golden Bear's take a 12-2 win over the Hawks Monday afternoon in Columbia.
Hammond center fielder Abbie Weirich makes a lunging catch on a sac fly off the bat of River Hill's Jenna Kenyon in the second inning. The Golden Bear's take a 12-2 win over the Hawks Monday afternoon in Columbia. (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Coach: Russell Kovach (third season)

2019 record: 14-2, 16-5

Top players: Seniors Jordan Rodriguez (P) and Abbie Weirich (OF); juniors Kaylee Beahm (SS), Maddie Berning (1B/OF), Krista Goodwin (C/3B) and Kasey Smith (3B/P); freshman Samara Lenz (3B/C).

Coach’s report: The Golden Bears have six starters returning from the 2020 season that was canceled, giving the team a strong core to build its young team around. The two seniors, Rodriguez and Weirich, are captains, with the latter coming off an All-County sophomore season in 2019 in which she played sparkling defense and hit for a .396 average with 10 extra-base hits and 25 runs scored.

Beahm is also a top returner to anchor the infield after making just three errors in 69 chances defensively as a freshman. She added a .418 average at the plate to go with multiple home runs and 19 RBI.

Hammond does not have JV team this year, creating a larger varsity roster that features six sophomores and three freshmen. That means Kovach will have to balance creating a highly competitive squad with building the skills of the younger players for the future.

“It will be an interesting combination of competition for returning players and learning for new players,” Kovach said. “But we will be competitive both defensively and at the plate. Some early-season injuries could make for a slow start, but look for the team to improve through the season. Pitching will be strong, and our top four or five in the lineup will compete with any team.”

Howard

Howard pitcher Samantha Hobert reacts after first baseman Becky Merson (L) records the final out on a pop fly against Hammond. Howard posts a 3-0 win over host Hammond in 2019.
Howard pitcher Samantha Hobert reacts after first baseman Becky Merson (L) records the final out on a pop fly against Hammond. Howard posts a 3-0 win over host Hammond in 2019. (Doug Kapustin / For Baltimore Sun Media)

Coach: Chuck Rice (10th season)

2019 record: 14-2, 18-6

Top players: Seniors Sam Hobert (P), Lindsey Smith (IF), Erin Smith (IF/OF) and Angie Tyler (OF/C); juniors Maddie Coleman (P) and Kaylee Delosantos (IF).

Coach’s report: It’s been a hitter’s league in recent seasons for Howard County teams, but the Lions have the pieces to potentially buck that trend.

“Our pitching should be our biggest strength,” Rice said. “Samantha Hobert is returning as a two-year All-County player on first team, and newcomer Maddie Coleman is right behind her.”

Hobert, who recently signed to play at Howard Community College, had a county-best 1.75 ERA as a sophomore on the way to a 10-2 record. On offense, Smith is a returning second-team All-County selection after hitting .520 with 19 runs scored in 2019.

Coleman and Delosantos haven’t played in a varsity game before this year, but both have breakout potential as juniors.

Long Reach

Long Reach shortstop Sierra Sims makes a play at second base against Howard.
Long Reach shortstop Sierra Sims makes a play at second base against Howard. (photo courtesy of Israel Carunungan)

Coach: Heather Clausen (first season)

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2019 record: 6-10, 7-12

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Top players: Senior Brittney Dix (OF); junior Sierra Sims (SS); sophomores Jules Dadurka (2B) and Holly Ryan (C).

Coach’s report: The Lightning have four returning starters from last year’s canceled season, including captains Dix and Sims. Sims was one of the team’s top hitters as a freshman with an average of .480 to go with 20 runs scored, while also holding down the shortstop position. Dix brings experience as a leader in the outfield.

The sophomore group of Ryan, a power-hitting catcher, and Dadurka, a slick-fielding infielder up the middle, are poised for breakouts. Also keep an eye on the freshmen trio of Taylor Slonac (3B), Amelia Bross (P) and Haiden Saffer (OF, 1B, P) to make immediate impacts.

“I am very excited this year because we have a mix between young and veteran softball players that will have a big impact on the field,” Clausen said. “Many of the girls have been working on their swings and their short game in the offseason and it shows.”

Marriotts Ridge

Marriotts Ridge's (20) Ashleigh Gerber prepares to swing at a pitch during a game against Reservoir at Marriotts Ridge, Monday, April 23, 2018.
Marriotts Ridge's (20) Ashleigh Gerber prepares to swing at a pitch during a game against Reservoir at Marriotts Ridge, Monday, April 23, 2018. (Nate Pesce / For Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Coach: Renard Parson (seventh season overall)

2019 record: 12-4, 13-9

Top players: Seniors Bridget Farrell (SS), Grace Filson (C/3B), Ashleigh Gerber (1B) and Leah Park (UT); juniors Sarah Fan (C/2B/OF) and Lauren Tolle (P).

Coach’s report: There are 10 players on the roster — six seniors and four juniors — who have been part of the program since they were freshmen.

“There is a lot of softball experience,” Parson said. “I think that our offense will be one of our strengths because of the amount of depth and versatility that we will have in it. This team should find several ways to put pressure on other team’s defenses.”

Farrell, Gerber and Fan all had at least 35 plate appearances in 2019 and scored 14 or more runs. Gerber added seven extra-base hits and 16 RBI, while Fan hit for a team-best .577 batting average to go with 18 runs scored.

Parson also expects the three underclassmen — Melina Parson, Brynne Mellady and Jasmine Smith — to make significant impacts in a number of areas.

Mt. Hebron

Mt. Hebron's Erin Behel catches a infield fly at shortstop against Reservoir.
Mt. Hebron's Erin Behel catches a infield fly at shortstop against Reservoir. (Nicole Munchel / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Coach: Mark Graydon (fifth season)

2019 record: 7-9, 7-11

Top players: Seniors Erin Behel (SS) and Alex Wendt (3B); junior Emma Behel (P).

Coach’s report: Team captains Erin Behel and Wendt are both four-year starters who excel both offensively and defensively. They are two of eight returning starters from last spring’s canceled season.

Erin Behel hit for a .500 batting average with eight doubles and 21 runs scored as a second-team All-County sophomore in 2019. Emma Behel will provide the majority of the pitching, while sophomore Emma Kim has breakout potential behind the plate at catcher. Other players to keep an eye on offensively are juniors Ashley Chueng (OF) and Jessica Iveljec (1B).

“We will be defensively competitive in the field since no one is playing out of position and each player has excellent knowledge of their individual fielding responsibilities,” Graydon said. “Offensively, every player made a commitment to challenge themselves in improving their hitting over the break and it shows.”

Oakland Mills

Coach: Anthony Felder (third season)

2019 record: 0-16, 0-17

Top players: Junior Aria Lunt (C) and sophomore Paige Andrews (SS/C).

Coach’s report: The Scorpions have a fresh look with just two returning starters and lots of underclassmen.

“It’s a young team of [a lot of] freshmen and sophomores,” Felder said. “Hitting will be my team’s strength.”

Oakland Mills is aiming for the program’s first victory since the 2016 campaign.

Reservoir

Reservoir's Kylee Gunkel delivers a pitch to a Glenelg batter during a softball game at Glenelg High School on Wednesday, April 18, 2019.
Reservoir's Kylee Gunkel delivers a pitch to a Glenelg batter during a softball game at Glenelg High School on Wednesday, April 18, 2019. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Coach: Julie Frisvold (14th season)

2019 record: 7-8, 10-11

Top players: Seniors Kylee Gunkel (P/3B) and Rhiannon Little (OF).

Coach’s report: The Gators have won seven or more county games every season over the past decade, winning a region title as recently as 2018. There are 10 players back from the canceled 2020 season and five from the 2019 squad. Gunkel was a first-team All-County selection at pitcher as a sophomore, striking out a league-best 88 batters and also hitting for a .411 average at the plate. Little, meanwhile, made second team All-County during that same 2019 season after hitting .500 with 10 extra-base hits, seven stolen bases and 20 runs scored.

Sophomore Maggie Frisvold is expected to provide support behind Gunkel in the circle. As a team, Reservoir should boast one of the best defenses in the county.

“The team had high expectations last year and this season is all about finding our identity as a team and leaving it all on the field,” coach Julie Frisvold said. “Missing last season was tough for everyone, and I think the returners want to do everything possible to help give our seniors the best possible end to their senior year.”

River Hill

River Hill's Ever Sheplee (7) is greeted by teammate Brooke Gettier after she crosses the plate during the Hawk's five-run fifth inning against Glenelg in a 2019 regional playoff game.
River Hill's Ever Sheplee (7) is greeted by teammate Brooke Gettier after she crosses the plate during the Hawk's five-run fifth inning against Glenelg in a 2019 regional playoff game. (Doug Kapustin / For Baltimore Sun Media)

Coach: Marni Rosenbaum (16th season)

2019 record: 13-3, 14-5

Top players: Seniors Sara Emig (OF), Brooke Gettier (1B/2B) and Ever Sheplee (SS); sophomore Ellie Hasegawa (C).

Coach’s report: After graduating just one senior from last year’s roster, the Hawks have basically their entire starting lineup back. And it’s still a relatively young group with just the three seniors leading the way.

“Even through COVID, the girls kept up with their travel teams and got in practice and games, so they are not coming back too rusty,” Rosenbaum said. “They have been meshing together, and we are excited to see what this season brings.”

Gettier (.446 batting average and 28 runs in 2019) and Sheplee (.352 average and 17 runs) were two of the team’s top hitters as sophomores. Sheplee is moving from catcher to shortstop because of the addition of Hasegawa, who is poised to be among the county’s best right away as a sophomore.

“She is a great communicator and has some of the best skills catching that I have seen in a while,” Rosenbaum said of Hasegawa.

Wilde Lake

Wilde Lake's Brooke Webster shares a laugh with her coach, Tee Dronenburg, after winding up at third base following a triple in the fifth inning against visiting Atholton.
Wilde Lake's Brooke Webster shares a laugh with her coach, Tee Dronenburg, after winding up at third base following a triple in the fifth inning against visiting Atholton. (Doug Kapustin / For Baltimore Sun Media)

Coach: Tee Dronenburg (11th season)

2019 record: 2-14, 3-16

Top players: Juniors Morgan Baird (C/UT), Veronica Goode (P/UT) and Brooke Webster (IF).

Coach’s report: Since Dronenburg took over the program in 2011, the Wildecats have never won more than two county games in a single season. This should be the year all that changes, however. Wilde Lake was poised for a breakthrough campaign before the season was canceled last spring, and with only two seniors having graduated, not much has changed in the last year.

“We will have our most potent offense that we’ve had in my 11 seasons at Wilde Lake,” Dronenburg said. “Every player in the lineup can hit for average and has power potential. We also have the deepest pitching rotation that we’ve ever had. This team is filled with softball experience.

“This group stayed in touch throughout the offseason and many played on travel teams, so they are hungry to get out there and finish what we started prior to the pandemic.”

The junior trio of Baird, Goode and Webster bring experience at the top. Goode was a second-team All-County selection as a freshman who can play any position on the field, while Baird was an everyday catcher and Webster the starting second baseman.

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There’s also a lot of excitement surrounding the six-player sophomore class — Lauren Jascewsky, Allison McQueeney, Heather McQueeney, Justyce Richard, Nokomis Styers and Brooke Weinig — all of whom projected as starters last spring as freshmen.

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