Deana Benner's softball season ended much better than it began.

Benner, Northeast's senior right-handed pitcher, missed her team's first five games with a knee injury. Last night she finished the season by tossing a three-hit shutout as No. 3 Northeast blanked North Carroll, 9-0, to capture the Maryland 3A championship.

The victory at Randazzo Park in Severn gave the Eagles (24-2) their Maryland-record ninth state title and their second in three years. Pasadena's Northeast finished the season with a 15-game winning streak.

North Carroll (20-3), located in Hampstead, is second to Northeast with six state titles. The two schools are tied for most state tournament appearances with 12 apiece.

Benner, who also had an RBI single in Northeast's six-run second inning, was practicing her pitches in Northeast's gym last winter when she suffered a slight tear of the MCL in her left knee. She underwent physical therapy and rejoined the lineup in early April.

"I worked really hard to get through it," said Benner, who has committed to Radford. "At first I kept trying to practice, but that only made it worse. I finally realized that I needed to relax and rest it, and physical therapy healed it completely."

Benner started the 1997 2A championship game, but was removed for a reliever in the seventh inning of Northeast's 6-5 victory over Middletown. She went the distance last night, striking out five to improve her record to 7-1. She entered the state tournament with an 0.38 earned run average. Senior shortstop Amanda Shifflett, who has committed to Robert Morris, blasted an RBI triple and scored on sophomore catcher Stephanie Adams's infield single to give the Eagles a 2-0 edge in the first inning. Shifflett (2 for 2, two walks) added an RBI single and senior Renee Mrowczynski delivered a two-run single as the lead grew to 8-0 in the second.

Northeast (24-2) 260 010 0 -- 9 1 0 0 North Carroll (20-3) 000 000 0 -- 0 3 2 Benner and Adams. Mullinix and Reeb.

CAPTION: Northeast celebrates its 15th consecutive victory and Maryland-record ninth state title.