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'Little' team from Catonsville takes huge strides in softball


Forget the explosive lineup that combined for a .338 batting average during the regular season. Never mind the pitching staff that compiled a 1.17 ERA.

Try to overlook the Division I scouts hanging around.

The driving force behind Catonsville Community College's recent rise to prominence on the softball diamond has been attitude as well as talent.

"When teams see us, they're no longer saying: 'Oh, it's that little team from Catonsville,' " said catcher Diana Hargis. "Now they know we're for real."

Sure, the pitching and hitting can account for those mind-boggling numbers on the stat sheet. But it's the will to win that has led to a 20-2 JuCo record and the Region XX title.

This weekend, the team was in Hutchinson, Kan., vying for the National Junior College Women's Fast-pitch Championship with 15 other regional winners. Though the Cardinals won just one game in a double-elimination tournament they played competitively with some of the top teams in the nation.

That's quite a change for a program that long has been perceived as the also-rans of the local junior college circuit, next to powers Essex, Charles and Hagerstown.

But it's no surprise for coach John Sparrow. As the season progressed, he says he began to see the makings of a championship team.

"That's the key word -- team," said Sparrow. "The players on the field are certainly a big part of it, but so are the players on the bench. If I was going to give an MVP for regionals, I'd give it to the bench warmers. They were so intense, it was unbelievable."

The Cardinals started the season with a deflating 6-5 loss to Anne Arundel, but later, with a spot in the nationals on the line, Catonsville swept a doubleheader from their rivals.

"Everybody was saying that Anne Arundel was No. 1 -- that we couldn't beat them," said captain Heather Isaac. "That made us really want to stick it to them. That was one of our goals since the first loss."

Isaac said that the difference between this year's team and last year's is the level of intensity. She said it took a few weeks for this collection of high school standouts and sandlot stars to get together inside the lines, but once they did there was no stopping them.

Their domination started on the mound, where Sparrow and pitching coach Paul Tewey assembled a fearsome foursome by any standards.

Karen Jones led the way, going 6-0 with a 0.31 ERA, and allowing just two earned runs and 14 hits -- all singles -- in 45 innings. The freshman, a first-team All-Metro selection at North County last year, used her 60-mph fastball, a riser and a changeup to compile a staff-leading 48 strikeouts.

Knuckleballer Dawn Thomas (6-1, 2.05 ERA), and freshmen Kim Strong (6-1, 1.37) from Old Mill and Brenda Timko (2-0, 0.64) from Liberty rounded out the pitching staff.

"They complement each other," said Tewey, a longtime summer-ball coach in Anne Arundel County. "We're able to spread them out so nobody gets overworked."

Said Sparrow: "The biggest difference between our program and the rest is the pitching. We have four quality pitchers, and a lot of Division I teams don't even have that."

But hitting, perhaps, was the biggest surprise.

Hargis, who led the team in seven offensive categories, including average (.556) and extra-base hits (15), said that the first loss to -- Anne Arundel provided enough motivation to carry the team through the season.

"We made some errors and we really didn't play well," said Hargis of the loss. "We were really pumped for them in the playoffs. In the first innings, we just came out and exploded."

Hargis, a freshman from the Institute of Notre Dame, went 13-for-16 in four regional games, helping assure the Cardinals of their first trip to the nationals.

Cleanup hitter Dawn Thomas (.371, 18 RBI), center fielder Susan Bartolomeo (.371) and first baseman Sherri Martin (.369, team-leading 27 RBI) were also big contributors on offense.

Sparrow calls Martin the best first baseman he has ever coached, and an integral part of a defense that improved throughout the season.

And Catonsville's success doesn't appear to be a one-time endeavor -- only four players graduate and local interest in the program is at an all-time high.

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