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Hungry for more, Marriotts Ridge softball among favorites in talented Howard County

Megan Hughes (7), seen being congratulated by teammates as she touches the plate after hitting a solo home run during a softball game against Howard last season, is among the top returners this spring for a Marriotts Ridge team trying to repeat as Howard County champions.
Megan Hughes (7), seen being congratulated by teammates as she touches the plate after hitting a solo home run during a softball game against Howard last season, is among the top returners this spring for a Marriotts Ridge team trying to repeat as Howard County champions. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

For all intents and purposes, Marriotts Ridge had the most successful season in program history last spring.

The Mustangs won their first county championship, finishing 15-2 in league play, and earned a program-best 17 overall victories. But it’s how the season ended, with a 5-0 loss against La Plata in the 2A South region championship game, that has this year’s group hungrier than ever, according to head coach Renard Parson.

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“I think I can say this with absolute confidence: This group was not satisfied with the way the season ended,” said Parson. “They seem to be more focused and determined than they were a year ago at this time.”

Marriotts Ridge senior Mikayla Barnard is the 2018 Howard County Times softball Player of the Year.

A motivated Marriotts Ridge team, even having graduated Player of the Year Mikayla Barnard, figures to once again play a major role in what is shaping up to be a talented county landscape.

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The Mustangs have seven returning starters, including one of the league’s top returning hitters in Molly Nies (.582 average in 2018) and a pair of talented pitching and hitting combos in Madi Costigan (.500 average, 22 RBIs) and Megan Hughes (.469 average, 22 RBIs).

“Our team’s strength will be our offense and our pitching,” Parson said. “Meghan is one of the hardest throwers in the county and Madi’s spins and ability to keep hitters off balance anchor a very deep and experienced pitching rotation. Offensively, I believe I can put a lineup on the field every day without any holes.”

Staying atop the county will mean holding off a list of contenders that may be as deep as it has ever been.

Last spring, Howard and Reservoir each broke through to win a region championship. It marked the first time since 2010 that two county squads advanced to the state final four in the same season.

Freshman Samanta Hobert threw a one-hit shutout to lead the Lions to a 2-0 win over Montgomery Blair in the 4A North regional championship on Monday night.

For Howard, co-county champions alongside Glenelg in 2017, the region championship was the first for the program as a member of the 4A classification. Sherwood had won every 4A North region title between 2012 and 2017.

With seven starters back from last year’s team, including a trio of All-County standouts, coach Chuck Rice is confident this year’s group will be ready to build on that success.

“They all have the experience of that state semifinal finish last year, and I would hope they carry that experience through this season,” he said. “We are returning those seven starters and two other players that have been waiting for their chance to play, which hopefully will have us fighting for a county title.”

Sophomore Samantha Hobert is expected to lead the way in the circle for the Lions, coming off a freshman campaign where her 1.96 ERA led all county pitchers with at least 20 innings and earned her a spot on first-team All-County. Captains Julia Colton, Sophie Morton and Paige Eakes will lead the offense after all three finished with batting averages of .473 or better last spring.

The day started out magical but ended up somber for the Northeast softball team on Monday.

Reservoir, meanwhile, won the 3A East region title in 2018, marking its first region championship since 2012. The Gators featured a senior-heavy team last spring, including four players that made first- or second-team All-County, but the four returning starters all have big-game experience.

Seniors Desi Hatzakos at catcher and Maddy Jones at shortstop provide a pair of three-year varsity starters that are each coming off seasons where they hit over .400 at the plate.

“While we graduated a lot of key players, the program had a solid pool to pull from this year,” Reservoir coach Julie Frisvold said. “The returners will need to step up as leaders and establish the core values that this group will need for success.”

Glenelg is another perennial powerhouse program coming off a strong 2018 season, finishing 13-4 in county play, and — just like Howard — the Gladiators return a first-team All-County pitcher in Amy Stetser.

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Stetser was a workhorse in the circle, pitching the second-most innings in the county (89.1) to go with a 2.33 ERA. With her leading the defense and sophomore Sage Huber back after posting a .571 average in her first high school season, first-year Glenelg coach Shannon Riley has two great cornerstones to build on.

And while there are other pitchers with experience returning for a handful of other county teams, it’s the offensive firepower that should make for an extremely competitive season from top to bottom.

“It will be a hitter’s county. I think you’ll see a lot of 6-5, 8-7 games,” Rice said.

Check out The Baltimore Sun's preseason Top 15 rankings for the 2019 softball season.

Centennial won 11 county games in 2018 and features a lineup built around junior Lauren Marcotte — a two-time first-team All-County shortstop that leads all area players with a combined 42 extra-base hits over the last two seasons. Senior captain Grace Bennett is also a proven commodity at the plate, smacking 13 extra-base hits and posting a .462 average on her way to making second-team All-County last spring.

Hammond and River Hill are getting plenty of preseason buzz as middle-of-the-pack squads from a season ago that have all the pieces to make a jump in the standings.

The Golden Bears proved they could score runs in bunches a year ago and with senior captains Brittany Brewer (.567 average, 16 extra-base hits) and Taylor Liguori (.534 average and county-best nine home runs) anchoring the lineup, the expectation is for more of the same this spring. Liguori, who has signed to play at the University of Maryland next year, has been an All-County infielder each of her first three seasons.

The Hawks, meanwhile, bring back eight starters and four of them posted batting averages of .344 or higher in 2018. Senior Delanie Vintz put herself in elite company a year ago with 22 runs scored and 22 RBIs — one of only nine county players to post 20-20 seasons last year.

Looking deeper, Long Reach has arguably the most feared one-two hitting combination in the county. Senior Kamryn Walker led the league with a .733 batting average, including 31 runs scored, and fellow senior Hailey Ramberg finished as the county leader with 20 extra-base hits and 40 RBIs to go with a .641 batting average. Throw in proven hitters like Sayla Phillips and Alexis Warthen among seven total returning starters and it’s easy to see the potential for the Lightning to vastly improve on their six overall wins from a year ago.

Mt. Hebron, led by senior captains Kieran Davis (.480 average, 19 runs and 18 RBIs) and Eliza Munns (.431 average, 22 runs and 16 RBIs), is capable of making a move up the standings as well.

As for the private schools, Chapelgate is coming off an undefeated season and the program’s first Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B Conference championship. The Yellowjackets defeated St. Paul’s in the title game, 5-4.

Six starters are back from that team, including three players with at least two seasons of garnering All-Conference honors in Emily Venkatesan, Grace Edwards and Ellie Henneberg.

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“We’ve had four trips to the conference championship [game] in five years and we hope to continue that success with this strong returning core,” Chapelgate coach John Isaac said.

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Venkatesan is the team’s ace pitcher, as she went 14-0 last season with a 2.26 ERA and 152 strikeouts. She also hit for a .535 average with 25 RBIs. Edwards saw time at pitcher as well, posting a 1.79 ERA in 16 innings, and hit for a .517 average, scored 32 runs and drove in 33. Henneberg, meanwhile, was the team’s top hitter in terms of average (.576) and extra-base hits (13) a season ago.

The Yellowjackets have already played two non-league games this spring, splitting contests against Catholic and Mount Carmel.

The first play date of the regular season for the public school teams is Thursday, March 21.

First Pitch

Here’s a snapshot look at each of the county teams with the season getting underway:

Atholton

2018 record: 3-14 county, 3-16 overall

Coach: Allyson O’Neill (second season)

Top players: Seniors Juliet Nierle (1B), Sydney Rhodes (P/IF) and Sydnee Ruley (OF); juniors Riley Law (OF) and Colleen Simmerly (C/3B)

Coach’s report: “We have six returners from last years team, all of which were starters. Last year we had a ton of growth over the season and ended the season with our best all-around game against Long Reach in the playoffs. To have these girls back this season and continue where we left off is exciting. There is always room to grow, but these ladies have seen how hard work, consistency and dedication pays off, so I am hopeful that we will be able to continue that this season and share it with our new players.

Centennial

2018 record: 11-6, 12-10

Coach: Katie Grimm (eighth season)

Top players: Senior Grace Bennett (IF); juniors Jordan Hinz (P) and Lauren Marcotte (IF).

Coach’s report: “We are returning eight starters, most of which have gotten solid innings in the offseason to be ready for the high school season. Our starting pitcher [Jordan Hinz] is returning this year healthy. Last year, she was dealing with some back issues. She's spent a lot of time in the offseason on pitching, but also making sure she's healthy and strong to start the season. I can already see a big difference. We graduated our first baseman, but are returning the rest of our infield. I would anticipate our defense being a huge strength for us.”

Glenelg

2018 record: 13-4, 15-7

Coach: Shannon Riley (first season)

Top players: Seniors Amy Stetser (P), Samoy Vassel (1B) and Madi Wingert (2B); junior Molly Dustin (3B); sophomores Sage Huber (UT) and Jordyn Woodling (OF).

Coach’s report: “We have some big bats this year and are looking to have a solid lineup on offense and defense. We have a lot of youth, including five freshmen on varsity, that can fill our depth chart and give us opportunities to experiment with our lineup.”

Hammond

2018 record: 8-9, 10-10

Coach: Russell Kovach (first season)

Top players: Seniors Brittany Brewer (P/3B), Sarah Gibson (2B/C), Armonie Lane (1B), Taylor Liguori (SS) and Amanda Weirih (OF); junior Makenzie Brooks (C); sophomores Jordan Rodriguez (P) and Abbie Weirich (OF).

Coach’s report: “With standout superstar Taylor Liguori and the superb bat and speed of Brittany Brewer at the plate, on the base-path and in the circle, Hammond looks to be competitive with the traditional softball powerhouses of Howard County.”

Howard

2018 record: 13-3, 18-6

Coach: Chuck Rice (eighth season)

Top players: Seniors Julia Colton (OF) and Sophie Morton (1B/C); junior Paige Eages (C); sophomores Samantha Hobert (P) and Lindsey Smith (SS).

Coach’s report: “I think our depth throughout the lineup and our pitching will be our strength. Samantha Hobert is back on the mound after she was an all-county first-team selection as a freshman and she brings more experience to the mound. Having one more year of experience at the plate from our seven returning starters, that just means we should be in most games.”

Long Reach

2018 record: 5-12, 6-13

Coach: Melissa Boardman (10th season)

Top players: Seniors Sayla Phillips (P), Hailey Ramberg (C), Haley Thompson (OF), Kamryn Walker (OF) and Alexis Warthen (OF); junior Isabella Facey (IF); sophomore Brittney Dix (IF); freshman Sierra Sims (SS)

Coach’s report: “We have so many power hitters in the lineup and I think this could be our strongest year up at bat. Alexis Warthen and Isabella Facey have been in the cages and look solid. I am expecting a lot more extra-base hits, RBIs and runs scored this year. Everyone's average should be up. Our big hitters from last year will stay consistent this year and continue doing what they do best. Our field is also going to be really solid. Losing Rachel [Jacavage] is very hard, but that shortstop position is going to be filled by Sierra Sims, a freshman. She is going to be such a great addition to this program. I am confident that we are going to improve in every aspect this season.”

Marriotts Ridge

2018 record: 15-2, 17-4

Coach: Renard Parson (second season, fifth overall)

Top players: Seniors Sam Miller (IF) and Molly Nies (2B/OF); juniors Madi Costigan (P/SS), Megan Hughes (P/OF), Alex Lindahl (UT) and Grace Tolle (C); sophomores Bridgett Farrell (IF/OF) and Ashleigh Gerber (1B).

Coach’s report: “Although we lost the Howard County Player of the Year Miki Barnard and Romy Lindahl to graduation, which will be huge losses, we have a core of players with a significant amount of talent and experience. It’s fun to be part of such a dedicated and hardworking program and these young women continue to impress me every day.”

Mt. Hebron

2018 record: 7-10, 7-11

Coach: Mark Graydon (third season)

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Top players: Seniors Kieran Davis (1B) and Eliza Munns (2B); juniors Bri Hoskinson (P) and Alex Wendt (C); Sophomore Erin Behel (SS); Freshmen Emma Behel (P/OF) and Ashley Cheung (OF).

Coach’s report: “This year’s team is balanced both offensively as well as defensively, so we have the potential to be extremely competitive. A solid infield and a fast outfield will provide a solid defense and our offensive lineup has outstanding hitting and should put big numbers on the scoreboard.”

Oakland Mills

2018 record: 0-16, 0-18

Coach: Anthony Felder (first season)

Top players: Juniors Tamia Bydume (3B) an Tamya Bydume (1B); freshmen Salimah Kersey (P) and Anais Seldon (C).

Coach’s report: “We should be a strong defensive team and an average hitting team. Our area for improvement [as the season goes on] will be pitching.”

Reservoir

2018 record: 13-3, 17-6

Coach: Julie Frisvold (12th season)

Top players: Seniors Desi Hatzakos (C) and Maddy Jones (SS); junior Macayla Allen (OF); sophomore Kylee Gunkle (P).

Coach’s report: “I think the team’s strength this year will be energy and communication. This is really a fun group of ball players and I think they will bring an energy onto the field that will really help motivate each team member to find a way to be successful. Honestly, I’m very excited to see what the four returning starters bring to the team this year. All of them did an amazing job last season in the regional run and I really see each of them impacting the county.”

River Hill

2018 record: 9-8, 11-9

Coach: Marni Rosenbaum (14th season)

Top players: Seniors Jenna Kenyon (P/SS) and Delanie Vintz (C/3B); Junior Quinn Kindbom (1B/P); sophomores Brooke Gettier (P/OF/2B) and Ever Sheplee (SS/C).

Coach’s report: “We have eight returning starters that have a season under their belt working together and they have already started really clicking on the field during practice. We have depth at pitcher and players that the flexibility to move around. We should have a solid lineup hitting from top to bottom.”

Wilde Lake

2018 record: 3-14, 3-15

Coach: Tee Dronenberg (ninth season)

Top players: Senior Kasey Baird (P/IF); juniors Jasper Killian (SS) and Rachel Van Osdel (1B); freshman Veronica Goode (P).

Coach’s report: “We are returning five starters from last season and we brought up three players from our JV program. For the most part, we have experience on our side with these girls. We have immediately been able to start practices at a higher level than some past years — which bodes well for us in games this season. I think we are going to surprise some people with our bats. We have a mixture of contact hitters and power hitters — which I’m hoping will lead to a big increase in run production from previous seasons. I’m also expecting our defense to perform at a higher level. Hopefully the combination of the two will lead to success for our team.”

Chapelgate

2018 record: 9-0 IAAM B, 12-0

Coach: John Isaac (16th season)

Top players: Seniors Grace Edwards (SS/P) and Emily Venkatesan (P); juniors Ellie Henneberg (C), Jessica Lucas (OF) and Olivia Sunde (OF).

Coach’s report: “Our strength is the experience and confidence of having six returning players off an undefeated conference championship. We will have a target on our backs as defending champs. Our last three games were won in the final at bat, so the bulls-eye is clear. But if we play to our best effort, the results could be the same.”

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