Most of the area's top high school and first-year college softball players are storming through the ASA summer league on talent-packed 18-and-under teams. But there is another team tucked in the younger age bracket that has its share of high school experience. And an abundance of potential.

Sudden Impact, a 16-and-under team, boasts two pitchers who many people -- including Coach Bill Fallica -- think are the future of the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference: Erica Bates of McDonough and Jessica Fallica of Thomas Stone.

"I've said it before, and maybe I am a little biased because Jessica is my daughter, but I really feel like both of them have the potential to be the best pitchers the SMAC has seen," said Bill Fallica, whose team has played shorthanded and struggled early to a 6-6 start despite a lineup that also includes Thomas Stone's Ashley Blanford and La Plata's Kathleen Borden and Kelly Ogren. "They already have so much experience. . . . And the talent -- the talent is there."

Bates and Jessica Fallica, both 15 and rising sophomores, are powerful and precise. But they are not without differences, however subtle. Bates puts slightly more spin on the ball than Fallica, moving it inside and outside of the plate. Fallica, a little faster than Bates, has a tendency to move the ball in more of an up-and-down direction.

"I've been using them more interchangeably this year than I ever have," said Bill Fallica, who has coached duo for three seasons and calls the signals for both of them. "Even though they throw the same pitches, they have different delivery styles and that helps keep other teams off balance."

So far this summer, Fallica has pitched 36 innings, allowing 20 hits and three walks while registering 28 strikeouts and a 0.58 earned-run average. In 39 innings, Bates has given up 38 hits and 13 walks, while recording 13 strikeouts and a 2.87 ERA.

Bates works at least once a week with Rich Crowell, father of former All-Met player of the year Clarisa Crowell (McDonough, 1998), on her pitching technique. Jessica Fallica is coached almost exclusively by her father.

Friends away from the softball field, Bates and Fallica said they enjoy going to the movies, shopping and just spending time with each other. After all, they can relate to each other better than most of their peers. They understand each other's dedication to softball. They respect each other's competitive spirit. And they share the sometimes heavy burden of living up to expectations.

"Everyone expects all this great stuff out of both of us, and I think we each do the best that we can," said Bates, who led McDonough to the Maryland 2A South region finals.

"We try not to think about it too much," said Jessica Fallica, who split time this season with Thomas Stone junior Erin Waltersdorff, leading the Cougars to the 3A state semifinals. "We always just give it our best. I think we do try to do better than the other, but we don't show it. We don't fight with each other, we're not jealous. It's just competition. Everyone wants to be better than the one before them. We both want to be the best."

On a Roll

The Maryland Dynasty, an 18-and-under team, stretched its win streak to 13 games last weekend with five straight wins in the rain-shortened National Softball Association Maryland state championship in Frederick. Dynasty, which won its final eight games June 4-6 at the Bay County Moose Invitational Tournament, improved its overall record to 18-2.

Clarisa Crowell, a rising sophomore at Virginia Tech, was named the tournament's most valuable player. In addition to her stellar pitching, Crowell went 7 for 10 at the plate with three home runs and seven runs batted in. Outfielder Lisa Boone (Northern, 1999) batted 10 for 14 with three RBI and got help offensively from rising seniors Jen Peel of Calvert and Adrienne Draper of La Plata. Peel hit 5 for 8 with six RBI and Draper went 6 for 11 with three RBI.

Ditto

The Maryland Merchants, a 14-and-under team, won the National Softball Association Maryland State Championship in Frederick for their age bracket. The Merchants (24-4) swept through their five games -- winning all but one by at least seven runs -- including an 11-3 win over the Maryland Flames in the tournament final.

Merchants pitcher Abbey Welch was named the tournament's most valuable player, going 2-0 on the mound in addition to her offensive contributions. Other Southern Marylanders on the Merchants' roster include Jayme Dinsmore, Nikki Gaetano, Heather Hall, Audrey Hawkins, twin sisters Cory and Kacey Karcesky, Jessica Morris, Erin Ruest, Jessica Stickell, Danielle Trebbe, Jamea Waltersdorff and Mary Anne Yates.

CAPTION: McDonough's Erica Bates, above, pitches during practice for 16-and-under Sudden Impact, while Thomas Stone's Jessica Fallica, right, works on her hitting. The two, who are entering their sophomore years, already are among the SMAC's top pitchers.