The Raiders came within a run of felling the Gladiators on March 27, when Glenelg came back from a 4-1 deficit to win, 5-4, in the eighth inning after scoring the automatic baserunner allowed by the international tiebreaker rule.
Glenelg remains undefeated. The loss was Atholton’s only defeat. The Raiders have another shot at the defending county champion on Thursday.
If Atholton wins out, it will steal at least a share of the league championship.
“We’re really excited,” junior pitcher Alex Herschman said. “That’s all we’ve been talking about all week, that team.”
Herschman and her teammates had to hold their excitement. Originally scheduled to play Glenelg on Monday, the girls instead found themselves inside an auxiliary gym taking soft toss as the rain fell outside.
After finishing with a .500 league record in 2012, the Raiders have elevated their play under 44-year-old first-year coach Bob Baxter, and his assistant coach and younger brother Steve.
The Baxters, who have also coached girls’ soccer at Centennial for the past five years, preach fundamentals while employing a positive outlook that has the team champing at the bit to compete against the most talented opposition.
“That’s really why you want to coach,” Bob Baxter said. “You want to coach against the best squads, against the best coaching. It’s really a thrill to be in that environment.”
Baxter said Herschman “has clearly been the driving source behind our success.” With an arsenal of six pitches, Herschman said she keys on variety and movement to stifle opposing batters.
When hitters put the ball in play, a stingy defense confident from Baxter’s repetitive drilling know how to respond.
Through Tuesday, Herschman had 114 strikeouts and a place among the top 10 area pitchers in that category. Opposing batters are hitting a paltry .167 while Atholton’s defense has a .946 fielding percentage.
Atholton has allowed only 19 runs on the year, fewer than any other team in the county.
“I think it’s all about preparation,” Baxter said. “One of the things that we try to get across to the girls is you win games on the practice field.
“When they’re in a game situation, they can feel a lot more comfortable about having a backhanded ball, or getting a force at second base, or even pulling off a defensive first-and-third play, which is also something we’ve worked on.”
Atholton has only one senior, captain Melanie Berger at catcher. The team’s other captain, junior Maya Schwartz, is hitting .425 with five doubles and two home runs, including a three-run shot in the first matchup with Glenelg.
Sophomores Danielle Dolbow, Amanda Petersen and Gina D’Asto are all playing their part. Dolbow is tied for the team lead with 19 hits, Petersen is batting over .400 and D’Asto has 15 steals on 17 attempts.
“The girls have responded to what we brought to the table,” Baxter said. “They’re hungry for competition at the highest level.”