Eleanor Roosevelt Coach Billy Hunter did not know Tiffany Smith when she took the field for the first day of softball tryouts three seasons ago, but Smith made a quick first impression.
Her powerful arm first caught Hunter's attention, then Smith began to showcase her ability at the plate. She sprayed hits all around the field, showing her coach and teammates she could make an immediate impact. Hunter said, "I knew this is a girl that needs to be in our lineup."
Smith started that season in left field and hit fourth in the team's batting order. Three years later, very little has changed. Smith hit .475 with 30 RBI and four home runs last season, and she played left field, first base and catcher.
"Tiffany has brought the same thing to our lineup every year, and that's put up big numbers and have the athleticism to play all over the field," Hunter said. "Tiffany's also a great leader. You can't ask for anything more from one of your seniors than what Tiffany gives us."
Smith has taken the lead this season with one goal in mind for the Raiders.
"We want a state championship. That's it," Smith said. "We've been to the state tournament [since] I've been here, and this is my last chance. We've been close, we've got to the championship game, but we don't want to be close, that's not our goal. Our goal is to win a state championship."
The Raiders were 17-5 a year ago and reached the Maryland 4A final, where they lost, 12-6, to North County. But with three South Region titles among its credentials and six returning starters, Eleanor Roosevelt has a legitimate chance of becoming the first county team to win five region titles in six years.
"This team has a chance to be the best team I've played with since I got here," said Smith, who spent her freshman year at Elizabeth Seton. "But I've played on a lot of good teams at Eleanor Roosevelt, only for us to come so close to winning a state title and come up short. It's been tough."
Smith's story during her three years at Eleanor Roosevelt, where she also has been a three-year starting forward on the girls' basketball team, has been filled with season-ending heartbreak. Earlier this month, a long three-pointer with less than five seconds left dealt the Raiders a 31-30 loss to Oxon Hill in the 4A South Region semifinals.
"For it to end like that, it just didn't seem fair, especially for Tiffany in her senior year because she has been an exceptional leader," Eleanor Roosevelt girls' basketball coach Roderick Hairston said. "She's been through more than her share of tough losses."
Last spring, the Raiders lost their fifth state championship game since winning their lone title in 1985 largely because Eleanor Roosevelt committed seven errors that led to eight unearned runs for North County.
Two years ago, Smith watched from left field as Dulaney scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning and defeated Eleanor Roosevelt, 3-2, in a state semifinal.
Still, Smith's focus remains fixed on changing that bad fortune.
"When I look at it, it's always the little things that cost us the chance to win the big games," Smith said. "With softball, since we've been there the past [four] years, people think it's a given that we'll get there again, but it's not. If we want to win a state championship, then we need to show it every play."