If Severna Park thinks it's entering today's Maryland 3A softball semifinal with an advantage, Mount Hebron doesn't necessarily see it that way.
Last season, pitcher Kaila Jenkins, then a freshman, pitched a perfect game as Severna Park beat Mount Hebron, 6-0, in the 3A East Region final en route to the school's second state championship.
But Mount Hebron Coach Sal Milio said the Vikings (20-1), the Howard County co-champions who are in the state playoffs for the first time since 1995, have improved both hitting and pitching this season.
Mount Hebron and Severna Park (20-3) will meet at 5:30 today at Randazzo Park in Severn. Frederick (14-7) and Fallston (21-1) will meet in the other semifinal.
One difference between this year and last is the presence of Mount Hebron senior pitcher Karen Kreis (17-1), who missed last year's region final with an injury. In 116 innings this season, Kreis has walked only 22 batters, struck out 99 and yielded only 10 earned runs.
"She doesn't put a lot of runners on base," Milio said. "For Karen to be effective, she has got to change up speed and spot her fastball. She has to stay out of the center of the plate. Her strength is her ability to make the other team hit her pitch and then have our defense play."
Kreis's defense includes senior shortstop Kate Schoenen (three errors in 79 chances) and senior first baseman Stacey Carrol (one error in 160 chances).
More importantly, Mount Hebron is going to have to take advantage of the slightest opportunity to score. Severna Park's Jenkins enters the game with 283 strikeouts in 147 innings and a 0.43 ERA. She will face a Mount Hebron offense that outscored its three playoff opponents, 25-7.
Kreis is Mount Hebron's offensive leader, too, with a .590 average and 32 RBI. Schoenen is hitting .470 with 25 runs scored.
"They hit the ball and are much improved over last year," said Severna Park Coach Jeff Sheppard. "If we hit the ball, then that's pretty much our key. Because we know even if [Jenkins] doesn't have her best stuff, it's better than most people's stuff."