4th would mean most to Starke Chesapeake hitter now knows value


When it comes to playing softball, Chesapeake's Tracy Starke knows just about everything. But it's what she doesn't know that scares her.


Starke's first three seasons at Chesapeake ended with Class 4A state championships. And with a 17-0 record, the No. 1 ranking in the metro area and the top seeding in this week's Region IV playoffs, the Cougars are poised to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive 4A title.

The next disappointment for Starke on the softball field will be her first.

"I think about that a lot," she said.

Chesapeake hasn't gone unbeaten since Starke, 17, first trotted out to right field. It just seems that way.

There were three losses during her freshman year, and two more as a sophomore. Last season, Chesapeake lost just once -- to North County -- before running off 36 straight wins.

The postseason always has been a time for celebration. Any tears were ones of joy, not anguish. She wouldn't know how to react if the mob scene taking place on the mound after the last out involved the other team.

"We get a lot of press, but we know the biggest press is yet to come if we lose a game," she said. "There are going to be articles upon articles about that. It's a lot of pressure on our team, but we don't take it that way. We take it as an incentive."

Starke received a different kind of incentive last year, when coach Dennis Thiele moved her into the leadoff spot after batting her near the bottom her first two seasons. And she has flourished.

She was named to the All-Metro first team as a junior after batting .451 with 27 runs scored and 16 steals. She also had 13 RBI, and her 28 hits were second on the club.

This season, which has seen players shifted to different positions -- or to the bench -- because of injuries or illness, Starke has been both steady and spectacular.

Going into Friday's game against Glen Burnie, she had a .392 average, 22 hits, 24 runs scored, four doubles, two triples, six walks, nine RBI and 11 steals. She also had committed just two errors while alternating between right field and center.

"I feel like [batting leadoff] is the way to jump-start the team," said Starke, who also has played soccer and run indoor track for four years. "If I get on base, it's the most confident feeling. I get on base, I steal second, [Stacey] Necessary comes up right after me -- it's just incredible.

"I feel like, if I get on base, I'm a motivator for the rest of the team, giving them the confidence to say, 'Well, if Tracy gets a hit, then the rest of us can get a hit, too.' "

When asked what Starke -- his No. 1 captain -- brings to the program, Thiele said, "She means everything. It's because of her personality, her character, her knowledge of the game, her sense of responsibility, her loyalty, how she handles the kids on the field and how they respect her. The kids gravitate to her. She's always smiling, and that makes everybody else feel good.

"She has leadership qualities that are going to take her a long way in life."

Fortunately for the Cougars, she never strayed from the softball team.

"With Tracy's running ability, I'm sure she could have been a state champion in [outdoor] track, but she stuck with the softball program," said assistant coach Lin Sullivan.

An accomplished relay runner during the indoor track season, Starke never considered changing sports in the spring. "This is my first love," she said.

Having been entrenched in Chesapeake's lineup for four seasons, Starke will have to start over next year at Shippensburg (Pa.) State University. She already has signed, but will not be on scholarship the first year.

"They're graduating four seniors and they pretty much occupy all the money," she said. "I don't mind at all. If things don't work out the way I want them to, he doesn't own me. It's like a test run."

She applied to only one other school -- Lehigh -- but was put on a waiting list "and I just got sick of waiting," she said.

"I just wanted to get everything over with, and Shippensburg's coach kept calling, asking, 'Are you going to sign? Are you going to sign?' "

The most common question now being asked of Starke is, "Are you going to win it all again this year?"

"This is the most important one," she said. "It's taken me three years to realize what a state championship means, all the hard work that goes into it. Maybe I've matured a lot more. Now I can see just how much the coaches want it and what goes on and off the field -- all the talking and things you miss when you're an underclassman.

"We're going for an undefeated season, and every game is a step closer to getting that goal."

And Starke is a step closer to again missing out on the disappointment that has alluded her for three springs.

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