Casey, Cory, Devin and Gretchen Karcesky play softball and volleyball for Northern High School, and all but Cory play basketball. So twin sisters Cory and Casey, rising Patriot sophomores, get plenty of practice at home with older sisters Gretchen, a rising junior, and Devin, a rising senior.

This summer, Cory and Casey's Southern Maryland Merchants teammates also are learning what it's like to play with the big girls. The Merchants, a 14-and-under ASA team, have elected to enter many tournaments in the 16-and-under division in search of increased competition.

"Everyone on the team thought it was a good idea," said Cory Karcesky, who pitches, catches and plays third base for the Merchants. "We know that if we can make it through the 16-and-under tournaments this year -- and we've been doing pretty well -- then next year when we do move up we'll do even better. I think it's good for us."

The Merchants (12-2, ranked first in the state in the 14-and-under division) swept through the 14-and-under National Softball Association Maryland State Championships two weeks ago in Frederick, winning all five of their games, including four by at least seven runs. Last weekend they went 3-1 at a 16-and-under tournament in Ocean City, and this weekend they are participating in the Bayside Blues' 16-and-under tournament at Hallowing Point Park in Calvert.

"This really is a talented team," said Gus Waltersdorff, one of the Merchants' four coaches. "We weren't getting the kind of competition we were looking for on the 14-and-under level. Playing with the 16s challenges us and pushes us to be a better team. If these girls can stay together as they get older, this is going to be a hard team to beat."

Seven of the team's 13 girls were enrolled in Southern Maryland Athletic Conference high schools last season, and all but one played for their respective teams as freshmen. Three of the girls -- Audrey Hawkins of Chopticon and Cory Karcesky and Heather Hall of Northern -- made the varsity teams. Hall was a second-team all-SMAC selection as an outfielder.

Nikki Gaetano (Calvert), Casey Karcesky (Northern) and Danielle Trebbe (Northern) all played on their school's junior varsity teams. Another rising sophomore, Erin Ruest of McDonough, was unable to play because she injured her knee during basketball season and hadn't completely recovered.

"I think we will stay together through the years," Cory Karcesky said. "Definitely. We know we have a lot of talent and a lot of versatility -- and we're already starting to put that together. Who knows, next year when we move up to 16 maybe we'll play 18 instead."

18-Under Blues Win Tourney

Although Bayside Blues Unlimited got off to a later start than many of its counterparts, the fast-pitch 18-and-under team certainly didn't waste any time catching up. Bayside won in its first ASA tournament, going undefeated in three games June 18 and 19 at Thomas Run Park in Harford County. Last Sunday's games were canceled because of rain.

Bayside opened the double-elimination tournament that Friday with a 2-1 come-from-behind win over Madison Bradford. Down 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh, Beth Radford (Northern, 1998) doubled to center field. Her teammate at the University of Maryland, Keisha Pickeral (Thomas Stone, 1998) followed with a single to put runners at first and third. Taryn McDonald (Northern) walked to load the bases and Michelle Peel (Calvert) walked to score the tying run. Pickeral scored the game-winning run when Pallotti's Andi Miller hit a slow ground ball to shortstop.

The Blues used three pitchers in the win, including Sherrie Fillman (Calvert), Candice Rice (Northern, 1998) and Miller. Fillman gave up three hits and walked two in three innings; Rice struck out five and yielded just one hit and two walks in two innings, and Miller struck out five, allowed no hits and no walks in two innings.

Bayside picked up a 3-2 win over Total Madness in the first game June 19, moving them into the winner's bracket. Rice threw the complete game, striking out five batters while giving up six hits and two walks. Bayside then downed the Frederick Express, 2-0, in its final game of the tournament. Miller went the distance in the shutout, striking out eight and yielding just two hits and two walks.

The Blues will return to action at the State Championships on July 9 through 11 at Thomas Run Park.

16-Under Blues Improve

The younger version of the 18-and-under Bayside Blues, Coach Larry Householder's 16-and-under team, struggled to a 7-11 start this season but showed signs of improvement last weekend in Cumberland at an NSA World Series qualifier. The Blues finished 2-3, but the two wins came on solid pitching performances by Melanie Fowler and Jenny Estevez of Westlake.

Fowler picked up a 5-1 win over Rucus from Richmond, Va., with a controlled performance in which she yielded five hits, struck out 11 and walked none. Estevez followed with a two-hitter in a 9-1 win over Montgomery Valley Storm Green.

"Both pitchers really have been solid," Householder said. "It's the defense that has let us down a little bit."

Andrea Selkirk (La Plata) is leading the Blues offensively, with a team-high .450 batting average. Jenni Travers is second on the team at .350.

Bayside is hosting a 16-under tournament this weekend at Hallowing Point Park in Calvert.

CAPTION: Heather Hall, left, Casey Karcesky and Cory Karcesky have helped the 14-and-under Southern Maryland Merchants to a 12-2 record and the National Softball Association Maryland state title. The Merchants, ranked first in the state in the 14-and-under age group, have opted to play several tournaments against 16-and-under teams this summer.