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Softball catching the fever

May 09, 2002|BY DAN SPEARS

Softball is a sport reliant on pitchers. Always has been, always will be. No matter what, a great pitcher makes an average team good and a great team nearly unstoppable.

In the Tri-State, Chambersburg's Steph VanBrakle is the Mid Penn's example. Frederick High's Candy Warden does the same thing in the Central Maryland Conference. Martinsburg's Tabi Merceruio is right there, too. The Monocacy Valley Athletic League has a handful of quality pitchers as well.

But the second-most important position has changed in this, my fifth spring of covering the sport. One year it was shortstop, another right field, once third base. Each of those seasons, a glut of high quality players played those positions, and it made our selections for the annual All-Area teams a tough one.

As the 2002 season winds down, this can officially be dubbed The Year of The Catcher.

The girls playing backstop are not immobile, swing-for-the-fences players. Now, it's almost always one of a team's best athletes - a lithe, quick player with a cannon for a right arm and lightning-fast reflexes.

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Hey, you stop a 60-mph fastball that bounces off the plate with the tying run on third and two outs in the seventh. Go right ahead, I promise I won't stop you.

How important is this position? Walkersville lost All-Area catcher Janet Paterson to graduation after 2001. Her replacement? Sarah Ramsburg - a three-time All-Area outfielder.

"Catcher's that important, they'll touch the ball every play," Walkersville coach Brian Campbell said. "She's made a few plays in the outfield, and was probably the best one in the league, but ... if we had a subpar catcher and awesome right fielder, we weren't going to go as far."

Middletown catcher Megan Enders will play next spring at Division I UConn. Chambersburg's Sara Cook is going to Division II Kutztown. Paterson is at Division II Lock Haven.

Catching has become serious business.

Maybe one hack writer's opinion won't convince you. No, you need cold, hard numbers to become a believer. Fine.

A quick research trip shows that seven catchers out of the area's 30 teams lead their team in batting average. The MVAL's leading hitter is Catoctin catcher Jess Valentine - the player Enders says, "scares me every time she's at the plate." She hits .578 and picks people off first base for the fun of it.

Eight other catchers bat over .300, another leads her team in RBI. That's 16 catchers making a huge impact on their team's success and failure, not just behind the plate, but on the other side of it as well.

We'll always get the letters from parents and coaches, saying pitchers get all the publicity and names in the paper and all that. And that's true. Always has been, always will be.

But when you pull open The Herald-Mail in June for our All-Area softball team, make sure you look for the catchers. The girls honored this year truly are the best of the best.

Dan Spears is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131 ext. 2334 or dans@herald-mail.com.

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