The Vikings could be the county's most-improved team. They've got six returning starters from last year's 9-8 (8-6 in county) team, an offense that should give opposing pitchers problems and a pitcher who may turn into one of the best in the league.
"I think we're going to be a sleeper," coach Harry Reese said. "Our hitting is decent, our fielding is decent, and with [sophomore pitcher] Jenny Joyce, our pitching is going to be real good."
Joyce is the key for Hebron. After an up-and-down season, she attended several pitching clinics, and has added velocity and improved control to a good assortment of pitches.
Senior catcher Brandee Eckstrom is another key. A third-year starter, Eckstrom would like to afford the slow start that had her mired around .250, before a late-season surge put her in the .400 club. Look for a big year from her.
Senior shortstop Sandy Lewis (.450) is another standout whose play will dictate how much the Vikings improve. Seniors Chris Machiran (2B, .333) and Chris Milio (1B, .397) should steady the right side on the infield.
Hebron's biggest question marks are in the outfield. Junior Adrienne Perry returns to start, and she hopes to raise her .250 average. Sophomore Becky Miller and freshmen Sarah Eberhart, Erin Curran and Heather Cole -- all newcomers -- will compete for the other spots. Eberhart, Curran and Cole give Hebron more speed than the Vikings have enjoyed in recent years.
"We have the experience, we have the speed," Reese said. "If our pitcher is as good as she appears to be, we should be in most games."
Second-year coach Joe Staub has been hurt by the recent stretch of inclement weather more than most coaches, since the tTC Scorpions return only four starters from last season's 4-14 team that lost 10 county games.
"I've got an extra-young team, and I've got to get out on the field to find out more about my starting lineup," Staub said. "Right now, it's still a mystery."
This much is clear, however. For the Scorpions to make a run at respectability, they need sophomore pitcher Diane Browne to step up. A junior varsity pitcher last year, Browne brings four pitches and decent control to the mound.
"She has enough control that she can pitch around the middle of the order and make people hit her pitch," Staub said.
The Scorpions' four starters are solid. Senior shortstop Maura Gallagher led the team in doubles last year and was batting near .500 at midseason before tapering off to .325. Senior LF Adrienne Coakley gave the Scorpions stability in the outfield. Junior first baseman Kristen Ostlie, who hit a grand slam last year, will bat clean-up again. And sophomore catcher Mindy Goldman should complement Browne nicely.
Oakland Mills will look to youth from there. Sophomore 2B Jennifer St. Clair and junior 3B Xochitl Strohbehn, each up from the junior varsity, probably will start. Sophomore Sonya Phillips (OF), freshman Jackie Coakley (OF), freshman Rachel Nelson (OF) and freshman Valerie Brammer (DH) have shown promise.
"This is a strong nucleus for the future," Staub said of his underclassmen. "Some of these freshmen and sophomores are going to gain experience big-time this year. They're young athletes with potential and strong work ethic. Realistically, I'm looking for a .500 season."
A .500 season would feel like a championship year to the Wildecats, who are coming off a winless season, have won just one county game in the last five years and have yet another new coach in Kelly Rosati.
Rosati, who in her second year as Wilde Lake's girls basketball coach turned the Wildecats into a competitive team, hopes to work the same magic in her new job. It won't be easy.
"If the girls just work, that's the only way they're going to win. If I can get that point across, we'll be OK," Rosati said. "We're starting from scratch, making sure they get to practice every day on time. We're going to build something here."
The Wildecats will pin their hopes largely on junior pitcher Jessica Dijak, who was also the Wildecats' most dependable hitter last spring. Freshman Katie Douglas and junior Micaela Finnegan should push Dijak.
Junior catcher Maria Boyer should help Wilde Lake's offense, as should junior 3B Oriana Krasko. Sophomore IF Krista Entrop, sophomore OF Heidi Olsen and junior 2B/OF Ashlea Walker also have the raw skills to contribute.
"They're good athletes who need to work on their work habits," Rosati said. We're not going to win a county championship. We're going to improve here, here and here.
"The way I look at it, I'm coming off a good [basketball] season, and I'm going into something that can only get better."