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In first-round action of the new Harford County Women's InvitationalSoftball League, the Havre de Grace Merchants dropped a 10-2 decision to Hales Seafood on Thursday at Thomas Run Park. The Merchants had beat Coale Trucking, 11-9, on Tuesday.

Havre de Grace is one of 12teams playing in the new league, which promises tougher competition than previous fast-pitch Harford County leagues, say organizers.

The game Thursday evening was a matchup between two former championship teams. Havre de Grace has been the Harford County Women's Softball champion two of the last three years. Hales Seafood, led by headcoach Norm Norris, has won the Northeast Girl's Unlimited Softball League championship the past four years.

During Thursday's game, Havre de Grace was able to tally only three hits on the night, having trouble with the fierce pitching of Kerrin O'Neill.

Using off-speedpitches, she struck out five batters and walked one, while forcing most hitters into pop-ups.

Hales Seafood scored three quick runs inthe first inning and two more in the third. Havre de Grace got on the board in the fourth when Robyn Adams crossed the plate on an error in right field.

The Merchants trailed 5-1 going into the bottom ofthe fifth. In that inning, Hales Seafood scored three runs to take an 8-1 lead, while Havre de Grace's Patty Brooks singled to left for the Merchants' only hit of the inning.

Havre de Grace's Adams started the sixth with a solo home run to right field. But that rally was halted when O'Neill got Julie Kirk to pop up and then struck out Havre de Grace pitcher Peaches Culberson to end the inning.

Merchants pitcher Debbie Bounds sat out the game to rest her arm.

O'Neill, a1985 C. Milton Wright graduate, gave up just three hits, showing that in order to win games in the league, you must have hot pitching.

Four-year Havre de Grace coach Glen Hinkle is trying to find ways togain an edge in the league. He feels this way about his team being successful:

"The key to winning is going to be good pitching and good defense."

He's optimistic about the rest of the season:

"We had 14 hits Tuesday . . . we'll have a good, solid team by the end ofthe year."

Organizers formed the league to promote better competition, re-establish the popularity of the sport in the area and give spectators an evening of entertainment. All games will be played on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at the lighted park at Harford Community College.

The season runs June 11-Aug. 6, with various tournaments running during the summer.

The league formed under the direction of park director John Haggerty, assistant director Bob Coale and league commissioner Jerry Bounds. They began recruiting late last year, and by this March had rounded out the 12-team field.

Teams in the new league previously were in the Harford County Women's Softball League, the Northeast League and nearby county leagues.

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