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Softballs or bowling balls, Cassady throws strikes


Rachel Cassady has an arm for all seasons.

The Aberdeen High senior, who fires her windmill pitches at close to 60 mph, is keeping the Eagles in the running for the Harford County softball championship. Earlier this season, she pitched a no-hitter against Joppatowne and has also thrown four one-hitters.

When she's not playing softball, her arm often gets a workout at Harford Lanes. Cassady carries a 180 bowling average and finished second April 5 in the most prestigious youth tournament in the state, the Maryland Ten Pin Council's Top 10 Youth Invitational.

Cassady doesn't bowl as often during the softball season as the rest of the year, but she would never think about giving up one sport to concentrate on the other.

"I don't really have a favorite. I just like them both," said Cassady, who also played Eagles soccer.

For Cassady, bowling and softball overlap during much of the year but never more than during the spring. She plays softball all week and bowls on the weekends.

Friday, Cassady struck out 16 and allowed just three hits in a 2-1 loss to John Carroll. The Eagles (9-4 overall, 9-3 league) beat the Patriots (8-3) earlier in the season by the identical score.

Cassady, who has added a curve ball to her four-pitch repertoire, walked only three. But she put the Patriots' lead-off hitter, Amity Torbit, on twice. Both times, Torbit stole second and third and scored on a wild pitch.

The Eagles, ranked No. 9 by The Baltimore Sun, got only one hit against John Carroll junior Bonnie Lawson, who struck out 12. Aberdeen left the bases loaded in the third and stranded two in the bottom of the seventh.

Today, however, Cassady will leave the mound to compete at the lanes during the Maryland State Young America Bowling Alliance's annual tournament.

Bowling was the first sport Cassady learned. She picked it up from her father, Jim Cassady, when she was about 5 years old. She has bowled in youth leagues ever since. The 17-year old has the highest average for girls in her age group in the Cecil-Harford Young America Bowling Alliance (YABA).

In March, Cassady won the regional YABA championship to advance to the Top 10 Youth Invitational, at Bowl America in Reisterstown. She averaged 201 pins over eight games -- six preliminaries and two in the stepladder finals. In the championship game, Cassady rolled 204 but lost by seven pins to a bowler from Hagerstown. She needed two strikes to win in the final frame. She got the first but missed the second.

In spring, however, bowling takes a back seat to softball. Because the games often run too late, Cassady cannot bowl in weeknight leagues.

Cassady started playing softball at 8, and by her freshman season, she was already a top-notch short stop for coach Janie Robinson. But the Eagles needed a pitcher for the following year, so Robinson turned to Cassady.

"I remember [Aberdeen athletic director] George Connolly told me you take the best athlete you have and turn them into a pitcher whether they want to or not," said Robinson. "Rachel didn't like it at first. She was happy at shortstop, but she finally came around."

Aberdeen junior-varsity coach Pam Young took Cassady to Anne Arundel County to work with Jack Crandell, the pitching guru of local high school softball. Young, who played high school softball at Andover High in Anne Arundel County, knew that almost every top-notch pitcher in the area owed her success to Crandell.

Crandell helped Cassady develop her speed and control, but she also worked many hours on her own. "It's really something you have to do all year around," she said. "You have to keep it up, because if you stop, you've got to practically start over."

Cassady's hard work has paid off for herself and for pitching in general in Harford County, which has suffered because of a lack of fast-pitch softball for youngsters in the county.

"She is the first in what I hope will be a long line of bringing pitching back to Harford County," said Robinson. Several other pitchers have also worked with Crandell, including Aberdeen teammate Jackie Elliot and Cassady's friend and top rival Lawson, who also pitched a no-hitter earlier this season.

For the last three summers, Cassady has played for an Anne Arundel summer-league team, Tangerine Machine, but she hasn't pitched. She played outfield and second base, positions that would suit her better in college.

"The way I pitch is illegal in college," explained Cassady. "You have to keep both feet on the rubber [in college]. You don't have to do that in high school, and I have trouble pitching that way."

Next year, Cassady hopes to take both of her games to the college level, where bowling is a winter sport. Her college choices are limited since few schools offer bowling as an intercollegiate sport. Cassady is considering staying close to home since Essex Community College offers both.

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