Filling Jodi Meitl's shoes as star pitcher of the Centennial High softball team will be an improbable if not impossible task.

Meitl, who has been called the county's best high school softball pitcher andwas the Howard County Sun's 1989 Softball Player of the Year, will be sidelined for the season, recovering from serious injuries she incurred in an automobile accident last Friday morning.

One close friend of hers was killed and another injured as they were on their way to school. (See our story on Page 1.)

"Our seasondefinitely won't be the same without Jodi," Centennial High softballcoach Dale Huting said. "What makes her so exceptional and separatesher from other players is her high level of motivation and desire tobe successful."

Last Friday -- the first official day of spring practice -- Meitl, a 16-year-old Centennial junior, was rushed to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center at University Hospital in Baltimore, andoriginally listed in critical condition.

But Tuesday, she had improved to fair and stable condition, suffering from a fractured pelvisand injuries to her nose, eye socket and elbow, said her mother, Claire Meitl.

"It's going to be a while until I'm back to my normal self. The doctors say I'll have to undergo a lot of therapy and won't be able to walk for about three months," Meitl said Monday, hours after seeing a cosmetic surgeon and dental specialist about her facial injuries.

"Things don't look too promising for school ball this season, but I should be back on the field for summer ball," she said.

Meitl, voted varsity team captain earlier this year, is also a member of the Tangerine Machine, a Maryland-based squad which will be hostfor the National Softball Championship Tournament for 18-and-unders this August at Cedar Lane and Centennial parks in Ellicott City.

In her freshman year at Centennial, Meitl exploded onto the county high school softball scene, posting a 17-2 record.

She threw five no-hitters and six shutouts, struck out 214 batters, compiled an earned-run average of 0.64 and helped her team advance to the class 2-A state semifinals.

Battling mononucleosis, Meitl missed the first part of her sophomore season, but bounced back with an 11-2 record, 127 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.86. She made the Howard County Sun's All-County First Team.

"The team will support her all we can now, as wellas through her entire recovery. She won't be a stranger," said CoachHuting.

However, he pointed out that "Getting another player to take over as starting pitcher won't be easy. But our team has depth, and we'll see what happens as the season progresses. I think the girlswill still have a winning season."

Meitl says she has received dozens of telephone calls, cards, flowers and balloons from friends andteammates.

"Everybody's been real supportive and nice," said Meitl. "Maybe one of these weeks I'll be able to watch some of the games from the sidelines."

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