Centennial's Kate Hobson made quite an impression during her first three weeks on the high school softball team. The freshman pitcher entered yesterday's game against Atholton 3-0, with a shutout of two-time defending county champion Glenelg.
But Hobson's success is not a big surprise. The 14-year-old right-hander has been playing softball year-round since she was 10, competing in up to 80 games each summer and practicing indoors all winter.
"This is the easy part of the season because I'm used to playing three or four games a day during the summer," she said after the four-hitter against Glenelg. "In high school, you only play three games a week."
Hobson is among a growing number of year-round softball players in Howard County, an increase that coaches say is improving the level of high school play.
"They are not normal freshmen because these girls coming in have played so many more games than juniors and seniors who don't play year-round," said Long Reach Coach Chuck Struhar. "You're seeing a lot of freshmen and sophomores who are better than your juniors and seniors, so they are the ones who deserve to play. I think it's gotten to the point now that if you don't play year-round, it's going to be very hard for you to start on a high school team."
Hobson plays for the Under-14 Maryland Magic, a highly competitive select team out of Anne Arundel County, one of the hotbeds of Maryland youth softball. Glenelg sophomore shortstop Leah Cossentino plays for the Magic's Under-16 team, competing in summer tournaments with top teams from across the country. The Magic's Under-16 team advanced to the American Softball Association's National Championship last summer.
"I don't think I could have made varsity as a freshman last year if I didn't play travel softball," Cossentino said. "It gave me a lot of experience playing against great competition and some of those teams are better than the ones we play during the high school season."
Glenelg sophomore right-hander Becky Schmidt plays for the Howard County Youth Program's Patriots. That program, Ellicott City's Maryland Chill and Western Howard County's Maryland Stars have been drawing significantly more players to tryouts recently.
"Five years ago, we barely had enough to field a team because softball wasn't nearly as popular as it is now," said Jim Schmidt, who coaches the Under-16 Patriots. "But last year, we had to cut about 20 kids. It's gotten to the point where girls want to play softball 50 weeks a year."
There are so many local players that some head outside the county for greater softball competition. Long Reach outfielder Shawnda Hebron, infielder Brittany Spottswood and pitcher Julie Naylor play for the Carroll County-based Freedom Firebirds. Centennial sophomore Jessica Oleinik plays for Riviera Beach, and Long Reach pitcher Amy Guyton plays for Brooklyn Park, both in Anne Arundel County.
"When it comes to softball, Anne Arundel County is the cream of the crop, and the easiest way to get better is by playing with the best players you can," said Wayne Cossentino, Leah's dad, who coaches the Under-16 Magic. "If you want to play in college, playing on a good travel team is the best way to get exposure for the college coaches to look at you."
Howard County high school coaches are pleased to have more year-round players and have seen the result on their fields this spring.
"Five years ago I would have maybe five or six of those girls, but now I have 14 of the 15 girls on my team playing year-round, and that makes a big difference," said Centennial Coach Dale Huting.
Long Reach, which has nine year-round players, is undefeated through six games and off to one of its best starts in school history, Struhar said.
"It's like the travel coaches do all the work during the summer, and we reap the rewards during the high school season," he said. "There used to be this big gap between the level of softball in Howard County and what was played in Anne Arundel and Carroll County, but now we're getting more and more girls who play year-round, and the gap is starting to close."
NOTES: Centennial (6-0) and Long Reach (7-0) remained the only undefeated county teams after solid wins Monday.
Centennial's Oleinik had three doubles and a triple to help Hobson earn an 8-4 victory over Hammond. Senior second baseman Michelle Bosserman made several difficult plays on grounders, and freshman right fielder Bailey Kramer made a game-saving, on-the-run catch in the seventh inning with two Howard runners on base and one out. Centennial has committed only two errors in six games.
Long Reach defeated Glenelg, 2-1. The teams were tied, 1-1, in the sixth inning when Kelly Filipowicz walked, advanced to third on two wild pitches and scored on sophomore Caroline Pedddicord's ground out. Peddicord was hitting a red-hot .385 entering Monday's game.
In the seventh, Guyton found her way out of a jam to improve to 7-0. After allowing two singles in the inning, Guyton fielded a one-out bunt -- intended to score the lead runner from third -- and looked the runner back before firing a bullet to first base for the out. Guyton then proceeded to strike out Brooke Winterling, Guyton's 10th strikeout of the game, to end the contest. She is averaging 8.4 strikeouts per game.
"We've preached good defense," Struhar said. "If you play good defense, we'll put you on the field."
Dan Yanovitz contributed to this report.