Everything seemed right for the John Carroll softball team to be a contender in the Harford County League this season.
It had experience with the return of four senior starters. The strong defense remained nearly intact. Junior pitcher April Lynch was back and looked even stronger. And the hitting, while not overpowering, figured to be consistent.
So far, the Patriots (10-2, 1-0) have been on the mark.
"I told the girls they are capable of beating anyone and the ones who were going to beat us were ourselves more than anything," said 15-year coach Neal Drexel. "We showed we had a good ballclub when we beat IND, 6-4."
Lynch has been the key ingredient. She has won her last five decisions, three of which came in last Saturday's Patterson Tournament -- won by John Carroll for the first time -- and has 54 strikeouts in her last 35 innings.
Lynch recorded her 19 strikeouts in a win over Harford Tech earlier in the season. All told, her 106 strikeouts in 79 innings through Wednesday is the best in the metro area.
"She is a very consistent pitcher and she doesn't walk a lot of batters," said junior catcher Paige Boyle. "Her speed is pretty quick, and she pitches right to my glove."
Lynch said, "Everyone's just been behind me, especially Paige, but I also look to them for the runs. I think what helped a lot was during the winter I went to two clinics and that built up the strength in my arm and I've been working on spots."
The defense also has ably supported Lynch, despite not seeing much action.
"Even though we have April, you still need a solid defense to make the outs," said senior second baseman Lisa Chrismer, whose 17 putouts are third behind Boyles' 110 and Heather Pyzik's 43 at first base.
pTC At times last season, the Patriots looked like a team in search of a leader at the plate, yet many have stepped forward this year.
While the Patriots' lineup doesn't possess a lot of power, Drexel has been getting production from nearly every spot in the order and the bench.
John Carroll's top five batters are all hitting over .300 with Chrismer and Boyle at .378 and .353, respectively.
Boyles' 16 RBIs and eight steals lead the team, while Chrismer and Shannon Lawler are tied for the lead in runs at 14.
The big difference between the Patriots' 10-7 record a year ago ** and their current success has been team unity, and Drexel said )) assistant coach Sherry Sterbinsky has been the motivator.
"I get the girls together after every inning to keep everyone in the game and if we made some mistakes we talk about them," said Sterbinsky.
"One of our cheers is 'together' and sometimes the girls laugh at me but we need to work together every game to win."
And that's exactly what John Carroll did in the Patterson Tournament, when backups Natalie Brecht, Chris Lynch and Kristy Manning stepped in and delivered for several key players who were absent.
So while the strength of Lynch's arm likely will decide how far the Patriots go, she won't have to do it alone.