Arundel softball coach Don Banks says his young team, whic includes five freshman starters, isn't afraid of anyone.
Not even the three-time defending Class 4A state champions.
"These girls don't get nervous," Banks said. "They don't know what fear is. They have nothing to fear."
Some softball observers might argue that last point.
The Wildcats (13-6), ranked ninth in the metro area, must travel to No. 1 Chesapeake for today's Class 4A, Region IV semifinal. The Cougars (18-0) have won 37 straight games, and are trying to become the first 4A school to win four state championships in a row.
Considering how poorly the Wildcats began the year, they're just happy to be playing anyone in the postseason.
They lost three of their first four games and were down, 6-0, to Archbishop Spalding in the consolation round of the North County Holiday Tournament, when heavy rains washed away the outcome.
Banks feels that the tournament also wiped Arundel's slate clean. He decided to start experimenting with his lineup because the games didn't count toward playoff points, "and from that point on, that's when good things happened for us."
Until then, just about everything that happened to Arundel was bad, including the fractured finger that sidelined senior shortstop Virginia Gonski for the year. Typical of the Wildcats' misfortune, Gonski suffered the injury while trying to score the tying run with two outs in the eighth inning against Severna Park. She was called out, and the Falcons prevailed, 1-0, in the season's second game.
"After that, we had to make some changes," Banks said. "I started five freshmen, and I got the girls in the positions they should be in. I got tired of playing a chess game. I got everybody squared away, stuck with it, and it paid off."
Banks has three freshmen in the infield -- at first, shortstop and third -- and two more in the outfield. The only senior starters are pitcher Traci Koenig (11-5) and catcher Heather Daffin.
"Their leadership helps our freshmen out a great deal," Banks said.
Among Arundel's victories this year is a 4-3 decision over No. 11 Glen Burnie. The Wildcats also beat North County, 7-2, after losing to the Knights in the holiday tournament.
"I never gave up on making the playoffs," Banks said. "The girls came around and hung together. They feared nobody. And we've been in every game we've played."
In the first-round game today, the Wildcats will face a team that beat them, 6-2, earlier this year. "The girls played well against Chesapeake," Banks said. "They haven't beaten themselves all year. These kids are making the plays."
Can they make enough of them to upset the senior-laden Cougars, who look like a team on a mission?
After Chesapeake's 2-0 win over Old Mill on Monday, Cougars coach Dennis Thiele said, "I was looking for a tight ballgame, but the girls have been shooting for an undefeated season and they weren't going to let this game get by them."
They don't intend to let today's game get by them, either, especially with senior ace Lori Congdon (10-0) on the mound.
"We played Arundel earlier in the season, and that was with Jaime Long pitching," Thiele said. "They have not seen Lori Congdon this year, which I think is an advantage for us. I really don't think Arundel's going to catch up to her.
"It all depends how much we can hit against Koenig. She's a pretty good pitcher, but I'm not sure she's got the stellar defense behind her that Lori has behind her. The only thing that would scare me is if our kids were looking past Arundel, and I know they're not."
Second seed Severna Park meets third seed Patterson in the other semifinal.
If the seedings hold true, Chesapeake will meet No. 6 Severna Park (14-4) in the finals. A Patterson victory over the Falcons would rank as one of the greatest upsets in state softball history.
Patterson (12-4) lost to Chesapeake, 23-0, earlier this season, and isn't given much of a chance to stay close to Severna Park, let alone win.
"We've discussed Patterson very, very cautiously," said Falcons coach Wayne Mook. "My team is very young, and all of a sudden they're being faced with their first playoff game. I don't think we're going to be overconfident at all."
Even so, Mook still thinks about a possible rematch with %J Chesapeake. Severna Park lost to the Cougars twice this year, 3-0 and 13-3. Though the margin of defeat was greater in the second game, Mook was encouraged that his team scored against Congdon.