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All-County Softball -- Baker has Blazers on winning path

June 19, 2010|By DAN KAUFFMAN

It's been a long time since Clear Spring's softball team has been this good.

Before last year's 12-5 season that culminated in a Maryland Class 1A West semifinal appearance, the Blazers had not had a winning season since going 11-8 in 2002. They were 30-81 over the six seasons from 2003-08.

But Clear Spring is blazing a new trail these days. The Blazers finished 17-5 this year and capped it with a thrilling run to the 1A West championship game.

"We really felt good about our chances going in," said Clear Spring coach Ron Baker. "We knew we had a lot of hitters coming back, we knew we had good pitching and we were fortunate we didn't have any major injuries."

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Baker is the 2010 Herald-Mail Washington County Softball Coach of the Year.

After losing their final three games of the regular season to Smithsburg, Boonsboro and Catoctin to finish third in the MVAL Antietam with a 10-4 conference record, the Blazers turned it on in the playoffs.

It started with a revenge 5-2 victory over Fort Hill in the 1A West first round. The Sentinels eliminated Clear Spring 11-0 in 2009.

"We knew (Fort Hill) didn't have the team they'd had the previous two years when they won the region, but they were still pretty good," Baker said. "That (win) didn't just happen, we had a very good idea what they're capable of."

A 14-4 whipping of Southern Garrett in the quarterfinals led to a thrilling semifinal against Williamsport. Damara McDonough pitched a four-hit shutout to get the best of Wildcats ace Alexis Fisher -- who threw a three-hitter herself -- in a 1-0 Blazers victory. Hannah Leizear hit the game-winning single in the sixth inning.

"That was probably the highlight of season, that particular game," Baker said. "Damara stepped up at the end of the year."

Statistically, everyone stepped up for Clear Spring. Led by shortstop Heather Schlotterbeck (.513, 11 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 17 RBIs), the offense was potent from top to bottom, including Leizear (.406, 15 RBIs), McDonough (.405, seven doubles, 18 RBIs), Sarah Blickenstaff (.351, 12 RBIs), Jenna Knable (.344, 15 RBIs), Amber Forrest (.324, 15 RBIs), Haley Thorn (.319, six doubles, 10 RBIs) and Breanne Purdham (.281, six doubles, one home run, 11 RBIs).

The Blazers' trio of pitchers -- Forrest (6-1, 1.67 ERA, 53 strikeouts), Morgan Purdham (4-1, 2.10 ERA, 58 strikeouts) and McDonough (6-3, 2.81 ERA, 52 strikeouts) -- made up the deepest staff in the county.

The best part is, all but three players -- Leizear, McDonough and Breanne Purdham -- will be back next season, as Clear Spring attempts to take another step forward.

"You're always looking for a few more ingredients to make your plan come together, but we'll pick up a couple from the JVs," Baker said. "When you get experience and youth coming together, it's a good combination, and we still have quality pitching."

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