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Kylee Gunkel caps historic season as Reservoir’s first Howard County softball Player of Year

Reservoir senior pitcher Kylee Gunkel led the county in wins, strikeouts and ERA on the way to being named the 2021 Howard County softball Player of the Year.
Reservoir senior pitcher Kylee Gunkel led the county in wins, strikeouts and ERA on the way to being named the 2021 Howard County softball Player of the Year. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media)

The resume was already impressive.

First-team All-County honors as a sophomore. Back-to-back years pitching Reservoir into the region championship game. In just two high school seasons, Kylee Gunkel had already put herself among the best to ever come through the Gators’ program.

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She wanted more.

“Honestly, it all just motivated me to push myself even harder. I saw what all my work to that point had done and it made me want to see how much further I could push myself,” Gunkel said. “I wanted to see if I could reach that next level.”

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This spring, as a senior, Gunkel indeed found a level all her own.

The Gators’ ace in the circle put together one of the most dominant pitching campaigns by a Howard County player in the last decade, going 14-1 with a 0.46 ERA while helping lead Reservoir to its first state championship game appearance.

It’s the most wins by a county pitcher since 2012, even while playing a condensed season, and the lowest ERA posted since 2011. She added 127 strikeouts against just nine walks in 77 innings pitched, allowing just nine runs (five earned) in 15 games.

She also was a more than capable hitter, posting a .347 batting average to go with four doubles, a triple and a home run.

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For her efforts, Gunkel has been named the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Softball Player of the Year — the first Reservoir player to ever earn the honor.

“Her legacy will be that she, along with our other senior [Rhiannon Little], embraced the role of being a leader and set the tone from the very beginning to help us to the best season Reservoir has ever had. After having last year taken away, she was that much more determined,” Reservoir coach Julie Frisvold said. “And I think, for Kylee, it was all about confidence. I could see a huge boost in confidence in herself and in the defense behind her this year, which allowed her to constantly be aggressive and attack the zone.”

Having confidence in those around her came naturally, according to Gunkel, who said she has been playing with some teammates like Alyssa Kelly since she was 7 or 8 years old. Those early years playing rec ball in the Savage Boys and Girls Club set a foundation that allowed the group this spring to hit the ground running despite having the entirety of the regular season last year wiped out because of the coronavirus pandemic.

No games, though, didn’t mean time off for Gunkel. From the time her sophomore season ended through the time tryouts began this April, she rarely took days off.

Reservoir senior Kylee Gunkel helped lead the Gators to the program's first county title and first trip to the state championship game this spring.
Reservoir senior Kylee Gunkel helped lead the Gators to the program's first county title and first trip to the state championship game this spring. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media)

Gunkel worked countless hours with her father Joseph and then also began honing her craft alongside several of the area’s other top pitchers under the tutelage of private coach Shelly Farris at Fluid Dynamics. During the winter months, she lifted at the gym to help increase her velocity.

“It was basically something every day, but that’s the way I wanted it. I wasn’t having fun unless I was working my tail off,” Gunkel said.

By the time the season finally began, Gunkel was firing on all cylinders. She fired three straight shutouts to open the year, blanking Hammond, Howard and Glenelg.

The 3-0 victory over the Lions on May 11, in which Gunkel struck out 11 and allowed just two hits, was the big one in the eyes of Frisvold.

“That was her statement game I think,” Frisvold said. “It was early in the season, against an impressive lineup, and everyone was watching to see who was going to step up. She had incredible movement [on her pitches] and she was in control from start to finish.”

The hot start continued throughout the rest of the regular season, as Reservoir went a perfect 11-0 on the way to securing the program’s first county title. No league opponent scored more than two runs on the Gators.

Then Gunkel was even better in the playoffs, registering four consecutive shutouts to help Reservoir reach the 3A state title game for the first time. The 1-0 victory over Damascus in the state semifinals showcased Gunkel’s ability to thrive under pressure.

“When I got into a sticky situation with runners on, I just tried my best to focus only on the glove of [catcher] Kayla [Ecker],” Gunkel said. “I learned from my freshman and sophomore seasons that the key is using that nervous energy in those moments to push you even harder.”

That battery of Gunkel and Ecker, a sophomore, seemed to always be on the same page. The duo called their own games, and Gunkel said they rarely disagreed on what pitches to throw.

“She knew what I was comfortable throwing and kept me in rhythm,” Gunkel said.

Reservoir pitcher Kylee Gunkel throws in the fifth inning of the MPSSAA Class 3A softball championship game against Chesapeake.
Reservoir pitcher Kylee Gunkel throws in the fifth inning of the MPSSAA Class 3A softball championship game against Chesapeake. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

The bid for a state championship ended one game short, with the Gators losing 3-1 against Chesapeake in the final. But Gunkel said she had no regrets.

As she heads off to pitch at Division II Wilmington University in Delaware, she said she got everything she could have wanted from her four-year varsity career.

“High school softball was a phenomenal experience. The coaches, my teammates … I love all of them,” Gunkel said. “I can’t thank them all enough for helping push me to reach my potential and the bonds I created are something that will stay with me forever.”

Named to the first-team All-County squad:

PITCHER

Mt. Hebron pitcher Emma Behel delivers a pitch during a game against River Hill on May 27, 2021.
Mt. Hebron pitcher Emma Behel delivers a pitch during a game against River Hill on May 27, 2021. (photo courtesy of Madeleine Phillips)

Emma Behel, Mt. Hebron junior. The breakout star in the circle for the Vikings pitched every inning of every game this spring. In 65 innings of work, she struck out 67 batters — ranking her second in the county behind Gunkel. Even with a slightly elevated ERA (4.29), Behel had six games in which she held the opposition to two runs or fewer — including helping the Vikings defeat second-place Howard 3-2 on May 12.

Just as important as the pitching was Behel’s impact with the bat, as she led all county pitchers with a .513 batting average. She had six doubles and a triple among her 18 hits and drove in 14 runs while hitting out of the third or fourth spot in the lineup.

Howard starting pitcher Maddie Coleman (24) delivers a pitch in the first inning against Glen Burnie on June 8, 2021.
Howard starting pitcher Maddie Coleman (24) delivers a pitch in the first inning against Glen Burnie on June 8, 2021. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Sun)

Maddie Coleman, Howard junior. Coleman got better as the season progressed, finishing the year with an ERA under one (0.91) in games against league opponents and an overall record of 4-2. She added 49 strikeouts in 33.1 innings pitched, while walking seven batters. One of her best outings came in the team’s playoff game against Glen Burnie, as she struck out 12 and allowed only six hits in a 10-2 win. She also threw a no-hitter in a win over Atholton.

Coleman was a standout hitter herself in the middle of the Lions’ order, posting a .500 average against league opponents and leading all county pitchers in hits (22), RBIs (22), doubles (six) and triples (two). She also scored 18 runs.

Wilde Lake Pitcher Veronica Goode, left, smiles as she comes off the field following the Wildecats' 18-0 win over the Centennial Eagles in Columbia Monday, May 10, 2021.
Wilde Lake Pitcher Veronica Goode, left, smiles as she comes off the field following the Wildecats' 18-0 win over the Centennial Eagles in Columbia Monday, May 10, 2021. (Dylan Slagle)

Veronica Goode, Wilde Lake junior. A second team All-County utility player as a freshman in 2019, Goode was improved in all aspects of the game this spring as a junior. She served as the heart and soul of a Wildecats’ team that posted its best record (7-4, 8-5) since 2001, splitting time at pitcher and shortstop to go along with hitting cleanup.

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Goode finished 3-3 in the circle, striking out 32 in 36.1 innings while posting a 3.47 ERA. She was just as impressive with the bat, hitting for a .455 average with three doubles, two home runs, 19 runs scored and 19 RBIs. Among her best performances was against Centennial on Opening Day, striking out eight and allowing just one hit in five shutout innings at pitcher in addition to going 3 for 4 with a home run at the plate. She posted a similarly impressive line (eight strikeouts and three hits allowed; 2 for 3, four RBIs) in a playoff victory over Atholton.

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CATCHER

Howard senior Lindsey Smith, seen in this file photo, was named first team All-County for the 2021 season.
Howard senior Lindsey Smith, seen in this file photo, was named first team All-County for the 2021 season. (photo courtesy of Israel Carunungan)

Lindsey Smith, Howard senior. After playing shortstop her first two years of high school, making second team All-County as a sophomore, Smith transitioned to the catcher position this spring and didn’t miss a beat. She caught for one of the top pitching staffs in the county and allowed just two runners to steal against her all year while throwing out four.

At the plate, the York College commit was first or second for Howard in almost every offensive category. Smith was tops on the team in batting average (.524), slugging percentage (.810), hits (22) and triples (three), while finishing second in RBIs (20) and doubles (five).

Her best game of the year was a 4 for 4 day with five RBIs in a win over Glenelg late in the regular season.

FIRST BASE

Marriotts Ridge's (20) Ashleigh Gerber, seen in this file photo, prepares to swing at a pitch.
Marriotts Ridge's (20) Ashleigh Gerber, seen in this file photo, prepares to swing at a pitch. (Nate Pesce / For Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Ashleigh Gerber, Marriotts Ridge senior. A power-hitting force in the middle of the Mustangs’ lineup, Gerber made the most of her final campaign in a Mustangs’ uniform. She tied for the county lead with four home runs, but also posted a career-best .457 batting average (16 for 35). She added 18 RBIs and 14 runs scored. Defensively at first base, she made 64 putouts with two errors.

Her best game of the season came against Centennial, as she launched two home runs — including a grand slam — as part of a six-RBI day. She had other standout efforts in wins against Hammond (3 for 4, home run, three RBIs) and Mt. Hebron (2 for 3, RBI).

INFIELD

Mt. Hebron's Erin Behel makes contact in a game against River Hill during the 2021 season.
Mt. Hebron's Erin Behel makes contact in a game against River Hill during the 2021 season. (photo courtesy of Madeleine Phillips)

Erin Behel, Mt. Hebron senior. The leadoff batter for the Vikings built on a second-team All-County season as a sophomore in 2019 to finish among the county leaders in batting average (.615), hits (24) and extra-base hits (11) this spring. Her seven triples led all county players.

Behel also was a standout shortstop, making just one error in 19 chances.

Among her standout efforts was going 4 for 4 against both Atholton and River Hill. Against the Raiders she had four RBIs and three runs, while she tripled and scored two runs against the Hawks. Behel also had multiple hits in the team’s victory over second-place Howard and hit her lone homer of the season against county-champion Reservoir.

River Hill catcher, Ever Sheplee tags out sliding Marriotts Ridge baserunner, Sarah Fan at the plate in the third inning. Marriotts Ridge takes a 8-5 win over visiting River Hill Friday afternoon in Marriottsville.
River Hill catcher, Ever Sheplee tags out sliding Marriotts Ridge baserunner, Sarah Fan at the plate in the third inning. Marriotts Ridge takes a 8-5 win over visiting River Hill Friday afternoon in Marriottsville. (Doug Kapustin / For Baltimore Sun Media)

Sarah Fan, Marriotts Ridge junior. An outfielder as a freshman on varsity in 2019, Fan transitioned to second base this season and led the defense. She made no errors in 11 chances.

But her biggest impact came at the plate, where she batted leadoff for the Mustangs and hit .647 (second-best in the county). Then when Fan reached base (22 hits, five walks), she was constantly looking to steal, finishing with a county-leading 22 stolen bases in 23 attempts. That same speed also allowed her to smack four triples.

Fan was particularly strong in wins over Wilde Lake (3 for 4, three stolen bases), Centennial (4 for 4, triple, three RBIs) and Mt. Hebron (2 for 2, walk, three stolen bases).

Reservoir's Maggie Frisvold sprints home to score the first run of a 3-run 1st inning against Manchester Valley during a 3A state quarterfinal softball game at Reservoir High School on Tuesday, June 15, 2021.
Reservoir's Maggie Frisvold sprints home to score the first run of a 3-run 1st inning against Manchester Valley during a 3A state quarterfinal softball game at Reservoir High School on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media)

Maggie Frisvold, Reservoir sophomore. A natural outfielder, Frisvold used her speed and athleticism to transform the second base position for the Gators. Her unparalleled range was on full display in the team’s state semifinal win against Damascus, making five putouts while sprinting into all areas of the field. Overall, she made just one error in 29 chances. She even stepped in at pitcher for 13 innings, striking out 27 while allowing just two hits and no runs.

As good as she was defensively, she was arguably even better as Reservoir’s leadoff hitter on offense. She led the county with 27 hits, including a team-high seven doubles, and tied for the county lead with 27 runs. She finished with a .509 batting average (.583 in county play) and added a team-high eight stolen bases.

Her big games included going 2 for 4 with a double and triple against River Hill, along with finishing 3 for 5 with two RBIs and a stolen base against Marriotts Ridge.

Glenelg's Sage Huber attempts to leg out a hit in a game against Long Reach on May 18, 2021.
Glenelg's Sage Huber attempts to leg out a hit in a game against Long Reach on May 18, 2021. (Israel Carunungan)

Sage Huber, Glenelg senior. A Player of the Year nominee, the Gladiators’ star shortstop led the county in batting average (.684) and finished second in hits (26). Huber was a starter since her freshman year and garnered second-team honors as a sophomore. But this year, she was on a completely different level, reaching base multiple times in 11 of the Gladiators’ 13 games and never striking out in league play. Huber added 19 runs and 12 RBIs.

In the field, the Salisbury University commit made just two errors in 48 total chances.

She had five three-hit games, highlighted by particularly big efforts against Mt. Hebron (4 for 4, double, two runs) and Centennial (3 for 3, home run, four runs and three RBIs).

Reservoir's Courtney Johnson hits a two-run double against Wilde Lake on Tuesday, May 25, 2021.
Reservoir's Courtney Johnson hits a two-run double against Wilde Lake on Tuesday, May 25, 2021. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Baltimore Sun Media)

Courtney Johnson, Reservoir sophomore. The other half of the dynamic middle infield tandem for the county-champion Gators, Johnson held down the shortstop position defensively and was the team’s No. 3 hitter. She showcased power (five doubles, two triples and two home runs) and also the ability to consistently continue rallies (.484 on-base percentage). By season’s end, she was part of a three-way tie for the county lead with 26 RBIs and also added 25 runs scored. Her 23 hits were second most on the team.

Arguably her best game came during the regular season against Wilde Lake, going 3 for 4 with a double, a home run, three runs scored and five RBIs while helping Reservoir clinch the program’s first county championship. She also scored the team’s lone run in a state semifinal victory over Damascus.

OUTFIELD

River Hill's Sara Emig throws the ball in the outfield during a game against Mt. Hebron on May 27, 2021.
River Hill's Sara Emig throws the ball in the outfield during a game against Mt. Hebron on May 27, 2021. (photo courtesy of Madeleine Phillips)

Sara Emig, River Hill senior. No county outfielder had a better batting average (.634) or more hits (26) than Emig did this spring. She also scored 21 runs, drove in 16 and finished with eight extra-base hits (five doubles, two triples, home run). One of her best offensive games came in a thrilling extra-inning victory over Wilde Lake, going 4 for 4 with a double and a home run.

Defensively in centerfield, Emig made no errors with 17 putouts. Overall, she served as one of three captains for a River Hill team that made it to the 3A East Region II championship game. Emig is committed to play softball at Marymount University.

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Wilde Lake centerfielder Heather McQueeney makes a running catch on a long shot to center during a softball game against Reservoir on Tuesday, May 25, 2021.
Wilde Lake centerfielder Heather McQueeney makes a running catch on a long shot to center during a softball game against Reservoir on Tuesday, May 25, 2021. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Baltimore Sun Media)

Heather McQueeney, Wilde Lake sophomore. McQueeney was the “sparkplug” at the top of the lineup for the Wildecats, according to her coach Tee Dronenburg. She got on base with regularity, posting a .444 batting average (20 for 45) to go with eight walks. Then, once she got on, she was a speed demon to the tune of 21 steals in 21 attempts (second most in the county). McQueeney also tied for the county lead in runs scored (27). She showcased power as well, including hitting a grand slam against Long Reach and then an inside-the-park home run against Oakland Mills on back-to-back days in early June.

Defensively, she held down centerfield with 20 putouts for a Wilde Lake team that finished tied for fourth in the county standings.

Hammond center fielder Abbie Weirich makes a lunging catch in this file photo from a game against River Hill.
Hammond center fielder Abbie Weirich makes a lunging catch in this file photo from a game against River Hill. (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Abbie Weirich, Hammond senior. The Golden Bears’ senior captain has been a model of consistency since her freshman year, making All-County this spring for a third time. She served as the team’s leadoff batter this season, posting a batting average of .523 (23 for 44) and scoring 23 runs. She also showcased solid power (three home runs and six doubles) and speed (nine stolen bases). In a win over Centennial, she went 3 for 4, scored three runs and hit a three-run inside-the-park home run.

She also was arguably the county’s most dynamic defensive outfielder. She lined up in centerfield and could almost cover line to line as necessary. She made no errors with 24 putouts and also threw out three runners at the plate — including gunning down the potential game-tying run at home for the final out in a road win over Long Reach.

UTILITY

Howard's Samantha Hobert fields a come-backer and throws to first for the out in a game against Reservoir on May 11, 2021.
Howard's Samantha Hobert fields a come-backer and throws to first for the out in a game against Reservoir on May 11, 2021. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Baltimore Sun Media)

Samantha Hobert, Howard senior. The Lions’ senior pitcher and first baseman is the only player among this year’s All-County contingent that can boast to being a three-time first team All-County selection. She went 3-1 at pitcher this spring with an ERA of 2.65 during county play, striking out 23 and walking just one. In the field, when not in the circle, she posted a fielding percentage of .931.

She added her best season as a hitter, posting a .458 batting average with four extra-base hits, 10 runs scored and eight RBIs. Among her best efforts offensively was a three-hit day with four RBIs against Atholton. At pitcher, she was part of a combined no-hitter against Oakland Mills. Hobert will play at Howard Community College.

SECOND TEAM ALL-COUNTY

Pitcher: Megan Ortwein, Glenelg sophomore; Ella Wood, River Hill junior.

Catcher: Morgan Baird, Wilde Lake junior; Ellie Hasegawa, River Hill sophomore.

First Base: Abby Shim, River Hill sophomore.

Infield: Kaylee Beahm, Hammond junior; Maddy Davis, Reservoir junior; Kaylee Delossantos, Howard junior; Kyra Holtje, Atholton sophomore; Justyce Richard, Wilde Lake sophomore; Sierra Sims, Long Reach junior.

Outfield: Rhiannon Little, Reservoir senior; Angie Tyler, Howard senior; Jordyn Woodling, Glenelg senior.

Utility: Serafina Tinio, Glenelg sophomore.

HONORABLE MENTION

Maddi Berning, Hammond junior outfield; Brittney Dix, Long Reach senior outfield; Kayla Ecker, Reservoir sophomore catcher; Bridget Farrell, Marriotts Ridge senior infield; Brooke Gettier, River Hill senior outfield; Morgan Gross, Howard junior infield; Alyssa Kelly, Reservoir junior outfield; Kathleen Maiorana, River Hill sophomore infield; Melina Parson, Marriotts Ridge sophomore utility; Emily Piwowarski, Glenelg junior outfield; Jamie Shaw, Glenelg freshman infield; Ashley Theimer, Marriotts Ridge junior outfield; Alex Wendt, Mt. Hebron sophomore infield.

FINAL STANDINGS

1. Reservoir (11-0 county, 15-1 overall); 2. Howard (9-2, 10-3); 3. Glenelg (8-3, 9-4); T4. River Hill (7-4, 8-5); T4. Wilde Lake (7-4, 8-5); T4. Marriotts Ridge (7-4, 7-4); T4. Mt. Hebron (7-4, 7-5); 8. Hammond (4-7, 5-8); 9. Long Reach (3-8, 3-9); 10. Centennial (2-9, 2-9); 11. Atholton (1-10, 1-11); 12. Oakland Mills (0-11, 0-11).

STAT LEADERS

Batting average (minimum 20 ABs):

Sage Huber, Glenelg — .684 (26 hits – 38 ABs)

Sarah Fan, Marriotts Ridge — .647 (22-34)

Sara Emig, River Hill — .634 (26-41)

Erin Behel, Mt. Hebron — .615 (24-39)

Kyra Holtje, Atholton — .583 (14-24)

Kaylee Beahm, Hammond — .550 (22-40)

Lindsey Smith, Howard — .524 (22-42)

Abbie Weirich, Hammond — .523 (23-44)

Bridget Farrell, Marriotts Ridge — .520 (13-25)

Maddi Berning, Hammond — .515 (17-33)

Emma Behel, Mt. Hebron — .513 (18-35)

Maggie Frisvold, Reservoir — .509 (27-53)

Maddie Coleman, Howard — .478 (22-46)

Angie Tyler, Howard — .471 (16-34)

Runs scored

Maggie Frisvold, Reservoir — 27

Heather McQueeney, Wilde Lake — 27

Courtney Johnson, Reservoir — 25

Alyssa Kelly, Reservoir — 24

Justyce Richard, Wilde Lake — 24

Allison McQueeney, Wilde Lake — 22

Sara Emig, River Hill — 21

Abbie Weirich, Hammond — 21

Kaylee Beahm, Hammond — 20

Erin Behel, Mt. Hebron — 20

RBI

Kayla Ecker, Reservoir — 26

Courtney Johnson, Reservoir — 26

Justyce Richard, Wilde Lake — 26

Maddie Coleman, Howard – 22

Kaylee Beahm, Hammond — 21

Serafina Tinio, Glenelg — 21

Lindsey Smith, Howard — 20

Alex Wendt, Mt. Hebron — 20

Doubles

Maggie Frisvold, Reservoir — 7

Emma Behel, Mt. Hebron — 6

Maddi Berning, Hammond — 6

Maddie Coleman, Howard — 6

Erin Conover, Wilde Lake — 6

Kathleen Maiorana, River Hill — 6

Abbie Weirich, Hammond — 6

Alex Wendt, Mt. Hebron — 6

Triples

Erin Behel, Mt. Hebron — 7

Serafina Tinio, Glenelg — 5

Sarah Fan, Marriotts Ridge — 4

Brooke Gettier, River Hill — 4

Alyssa Kelly, Reservoir — 4

Kaylee Beahm, Hammond — 3

Homeruns

Ashleigh Gerber, Marriotts Ridge — 4

Kyra Holtje, Atholton — 4

Heather McQueeney, Wilde Lake — 3

Abbie Weirich, Hammond — 3

Clare Andrews, Reservoir — 2

Kayla Ecker, Reservoir — 2

Veronica Goode, Wilde Lake — 2

Courtney Johnson, Reservoir — 2

Justyce Richard, Wilde Lake — 2

Serafina Tinio, Glenelg — 2

Stolen Bases

Sarah Fan, Marriotts Ridge — 22

Heather McQueeney, Wilde Lake — 21

Angie Tyler, Howard — 9

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Abbie Weirich, Hammond — 9

Maggie Frisvold, Reservoir — 8

Sage Huber, Glenelg — 8

Jamie Shaw, Glenelg — 8

Erin Gorschboth, Howard — 7

Rhiannon Little, Reservoir — 7

Justyce Richard, Wilde Lake — 7

Taylor Slonac, Long Reach — 7

Pitching ERA (min 20 innings)

Kylee Gunkel, Reservoir — 0.46 (5 earned runs in 77 innings)

Maddie Coleman, Howard — 1.68 (8 earned runs in 33.1 innings)

Megan Ortwein, Glenelg — 3.13 (28 earned runs in 62.2 innings)

Veronica Goode, Wilde Lake — 3.47 (18 earned runs in 36.1 innings)

Samantha Hobert, Howard — 3.50 (14 earned runs in 28 innings)

Pitching strikeouts

Kylee Gunkel, Reservoir — 127

Emma Behel, Mt. Hebron — 67

Ella Wood, River Hill — 61

Maddie Coleman, Howard — 49

Megan Ortwein, Glenelg — 34

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