Long Reach softball coach Chuck Struhar said he "can see the winner of this county having three or four losses."
That means the Lightning is in pretty good shape five games into the season, as it holds the league's only unbeaten record.
The four-year-old school, which has posted league records of 2-16, 10-8 and 11-7, moved into sole possession of first place Friday thanks to River Hill's 5-4 upset victory at seventh-ranked Atholton. At the same time, Long Reach needed Emily Holloway's bases-loaded single in the eighth inning to defeat visiting Wilde Lake, 2-1.
Long Reach's climb to the top starts and stops with one player -- senior pitcher Kristen Schaper.
"She's the absolute difference," Struhar said. "She's pitching better, batting better and enjoying herself more. She's the show."
Schaper, 4-0, has faced 98 batters and allowed eight hits and struck out 26. She has walked five and allowed one earned run. At the plate, she is batting .455 and has three doubles and has walked six times.
The presence of junior pitcher Cathy Drew, who was on the JV last season, has played an important role in Schaper's approach this season.
"Cathy's ability to pitch is really helping Kristen because she knows she doesn't have to pitch every game," Struhar said. "She's not going to wear out."
In fact, in Long Reach's 11-1 win Wednesday over Hammond, Drew pitched and Schaper caught.
Long Reach has never been a power-hitting team, and this season is no different.
"We're still not a good hitting team, but as long as [Schaper] keeps us close and we play good defense, we're going to be in ballgames," said Struhar, whose team faces Howard tomorrow and Atholton on Thursday.
Centennial coach Dale Huting, whose team lost to Long Reach, 4-0, last week, said he was "real impressed" with Schaper. "This is her fourth year, and it seems like its all coming together."
A wild finish
Atholton won its first 10 games last season en route to a 17-1 county championship record. River Hill handed the Raiders their first loss five games earlier this year by scoring two runs in the sixth inning for a 5-4 victory.
"It's the best we've played this season," said River Hill coach Dave Vitagliano. "And it helps take away some of the sting for playing so poorly against Glenelg [in a 7-2 eight-inning loss]. Not to take anything away from Glenelg, but we just didn't feel we played well against them. This puts us back on track. I told [the team] if we play well we can play with anybody."
Atholton pitcher Katie Zitnay opened the game by walking Aneesha Griffin. Amanda Bile fouled off two bunt attempts, then hit a two-run homer to left.
"She crushed it," Vitagliano said. "It was like a rocket."
Atholton (4-1) scored three runs in the third on a back-to-back doubles by Zitnay and Costa, but the Hawks (3-2) tied it when Kelly Smith tripled and scored on an errant throw.
The Raiders took a 4-3 advantage in the fifth before River Hill regained the lead for good in the sixth. Tara Fadrowski reached second on throwing error, and Robin Smith sacrificed her to third. Griffin singled Fadrowski home, then later scored on a two-out wild pitch.
Atholton made it interesting in the seventh.
With one out, Aubrey Barrett and Karen Lee got consecutive singles and moved to second and third on a passed ball. Tiffany Mathis hit a slow roller toward pitcher Shannon Jackson, who looked Barrett back to third.
Mathis reached first without a throw and headed toward second. Jackson turned back toward third and caught Barrett off the bag. Megan Mitchell took Jackson's throw at third, and threw to Fadrowski, who tagged Barrett in a rundown for the second out.
Zitnay came up with runners on second and third and hit a sharp grounder to Fadrowski, who made the stop and tagged third base to end the game.
Jackson, who walked eight against Glenelg, had her first no-walk game this season. She also struck out three and made some good defensive plays.
Zitnay finished with four strikeouts and two walks.
Getting the run back
Centennial (3-2), which lost seven one-run games last season, has won three this season, two of them in extra innings.
The Eagles, who scored single runs in the eighth, ninth and 10th innings to beat Mount Hebron, 4-3, Wednesday, needed two runs in the bottom of the eighth Friday to top visiting Glenelg, 3-2.
Glenelg (4-1) moved ahead 2-1 in the top of the eighth on Chrissy Starcher's single. In Centennial's half, Laura Gaudio started on second and Becca Decesare bunted safely to advance Gaudio to third. Sandy Palacorolla's bunt scored Gaudio, and Decesare moved to third and Palacorolla to second on a throwing error. Amanda Hall then bunted, and Decesare was thrown out home. Palacorolla moved to third on the play, and scored the game-winner on an infield error off the bat of Melissa Boone.
"This is a neat win," said Centennial coach Dale Huting. "We lost so many games last year by one run, and to turn things around is a big plus for us."
Hall retired the first nine batters she faced, and struck out the side in the third inning. She had four strikeouts and didn't walk a batter.
Here are the county standings: Long Reach 5-0; Atholton 4-1; Howard 4-1; River Hill 3-2; Centennial 3-2; Glenelg 3-2; Mount Hebron 2-3; Wilde Lake 1-4; Hammond 0-5; Oakland Mills 0-5.