Potomac School baseball coach Glenn Adamec entered the season with modest hopes for the bottom end of his pitching rotation: a few strong performances, and, with any luck, a lot of close games that could be won by the Panthers' offense.

Junior right-hander Michael Murphy and senior right-hander Tad Duvall have far exceeded that threshold through the season's first two weeks. No. 2 starter Murphy (2-0 through Monday) allowed one run and struck out 21 in his first 11 innings; no. 3 starter Duvall (1-0) yielded one run and struck out 11 in his first seven innings.

Combined with the usual solid starts from senior right-hander Jason Nadeau (2-0, 24 strikeouts through Monday), the Panthers now think they have enough arms to challenge for the Mid-Atlantic Conference championship.

"If your pitchers are pitching well and you get out of innings quickly, it gives you a lot more confidence, you get more excited and you hit the ball better," said Nadeau, who set the school mark for career wins with his 15th in a 7-1 victory over Seton last Thursday. "This year, we feel like we have a chance in every game."

Murphy, who relies on an accurate curve, had a 0.64 earned-run average through his first two starts, leading the Panthers to convincing wins over Flint Hill and St. James.

"He's mixing pitches very well, he's got a great curveball and he's got everyone off balance," said Adamec, whose club outscored its opponents 45-6 in its first five games, all wins. "I wasn't expecting that kind of performance. I figured he'd go out there and hold his own, and hopefully we'd out hit the other team."

Through Monday, the Panthers had a team ERA of 1.27, with 59 strikeouts in 33 innings.

WCAC Showdown

Despite stockpiles of individual honors as well as some gaudy statistics up and down its lineup, the Bishop Ireton softball team still has its sights set on one major team accomplishment. The Cardinals (11-0 through Monday) are longing for a win over Washington Catholic Athletic Conference power O'Connell.

Ireton will get that chance at 4 p.m. today when it hosts the Knights, who also were 11-0 through Monday, at Hensley Park in Alexandria.

The Cardinals are led by senior pitcher Jess Luckett (8-0, 61 strikeouts in 43 innings), who has thrown two no-hitters, seven shutouts and given up one unearned run. The reigning WCAC player of the year was batting .750 with three home runs and 20 RBI through Monday.

O'Connell counters with junior pitcher Cara L'Etoile (10-0), who has 103 strikeouts in 63 innings pitched. She beat the Cardinals three times last year, including 1-0 and 6-3 regular season decisions en route to a perfect WCAC mark, and a 10-4 win in the semifinal round of the Virginia Independent Schools Tournament.

Luckett also must contend with O'Connell's senior catcher, Andie Alexander (.528 batting average), and senior third baseman Nicole Simons (.485 BA and 10 RBI).

Cardinals Coach Tom Luckett, Jess Luckett's father, said his daughter has spent most of the year trying to throw as few fastballs as possible.

"She's been getting people out with her drop, which goes away from the batter, and her screwball, which breaks in on the batter," he said.

Ireton, which has outscored its opponents 87-1, has victories against defending VIS champ Paul VI Catholic and once-beaten Georgetown Visitation. Junior catcher Beth Dalmut is batting .542 with 10 RBI; junior shortstop Ellen Horen is batting .458 and sophomore second baseman Gina Cogliano is batting .483.

The Knights registered early-season wins over Northern Region powers Westfield and Hayfield.