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Shattering the competition

The Baltimore Sun

If you're planning to check out tonight's Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Class 3A softball semifinals at Bachman Park in Glen Burnie, we offer a pair of traffic tips as a community service. First, get there early, because the roads around the park tend to clog in the early evening. Second -- and this is perhaps the most important heads-up -- don't park near Field 6.

That's where fifth-ranked Franklin will be playing and where third baseman Kelsey Kluckowski will be hitting. The warning is extended because Kluckowski has developed a tendency for placing foul balls on the cars parked around the Indians' softball field.

Just the other day, in Franklin's 6-2 win over Catonsville, which clinched the North region title, Kluckowski popped a long foul fly off the roof of teammate Erin Wolff's car.

"It was a really nice hit," Kluckowski said. "I hit foul balls a lot that far, but I can never straighten them out for the life of me."

Fortunately for them, the rest of the Indians, who have won 22 games this year, hit more than a few straight, enough to land them in the state semifinals for a second straight season and a meeting with No. 12 Atholton.

"This team is a good team," pitcher Jordan Eades said. "We definitely should be here right now. We did what we had to do. All the teams we faced this year gave us a challenge, but we just hung in there, and we're undefeated."

Indeed, Franklin is the last area baseball or softball team without a loss, thanks to timely hitting, solid defense and Eades' right arm, which, to date, has notched 21 wins, 228 strikeouts and a miserly ERA of 0.56.

Eades, a junior who leads Franklin in batting average (.484), home runs (six) and RBIs (33), started sluggishly Saturday, as her pitches were up in the strike zone, a clear sign of nerves. The Comets' leadoff hitter reached on an error, then scored on a one-out double to left-center to give Catonsville a 1-0 lead.

From there, however, Eades set Catonsville down in order in the second and cruised from there, pitching out of a mini-jam in the fifth, when a runner scored on a dropped third strike and a pair of throwing errors on the same play. In the Catonsville sixth, when the Comets' leadoff hitter doubled, then reached third on a fielder's choice, Eades choked off the threat, with a strikeout -- after the batter fouled off five straight pitches -- and by getting a grounder to short.

"I'm sure she was nervous," senior catcher Nicole Snee said. "We were all nervous, considering we had prom [the night before] and that was a little iffy. She was nervous, but she got it together. She knows she's good. She knows she can strike them all out."

On Saturday, Eades only had to strike out 11, walking none. The opportunistic Franklin offense handled the rest, scoring five of their six runs on the day with two out. Eades might be the star, but she is surrounded by a solid group of role players who have gotten the key hit, moved runners along, made important relay throws or just done whatever it took to move the Indians to within two wins of the school's first state softball title.

Franklin coach Edward Lahay said after the team narrowly got past Hereford in its tournament opener that it seemed to shed the psychological burden of having an unbeaten season, which included the Baltimore County championship. Its next big test will be to take the lessons learned from getting shut down by Northeast in last year's semifinals and apply them to tonight's game.

"Last year, when they got to the state semifinals, they lined up and they announced the Franklin team and the fact that it was the first time they had been there in a long time," Lahay said. "Then, they announced Northeast and all they had done. You can just see in our girls' eyes that they were intimidated. Having a perfect season, winning the regional back-to-back and the county championship is going to give us the confidence we'll need not to be overwhelmed when we get there."

With any luck, the most exciting part of Franklin's trip to Glen Burnie tonight and possibly to the state finals at College Park on Saturday might be whether Kluckowski puts out someone's window. Feel free to find out in person, but remember, you've been warned.

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