James Rada Jr.
(6/1) When the Catoctin Cougars softball team played Williamsport and lost its third straight game at the beginning of this season, they certainly didn't look like the championship softball team
of the past or the future.
"We sucked at the beginning of the season," pitcher Alicia Brandenburg said. "Everybody was sick. Everybody was crying."
Besides the poor start to the 2006 season, the team was also coming off a poor 2005 season when they had been eliminated in the regional finals.
"I think the turnaround started last year when they lost in the regional finals last year," said Coach Amy Hunt. "It ended the season on a sour note and then they had a rough start to this season.
I think they realized that the title was not going to be given to anyone. They had to earn it."
And earn it they did with a 4-0 win over Colonel Richardson in the Class 1A Maryland Softball championship game on May 25 at the University of Maryland softball complex in College Park. It became
the team's first state title in 20 years.
Williamsport was the turning point. "They were crying," said Hunt. "It was like a funeral."
"We realized how much we wanted to win," said left fielder Natasha Ammenheuser.
Brandenburg said it helped when the team reprioritized their goals. Instead of making winning the state title the number one goal, she said, "We realized we had to do well during the season."
The recovery was rocky but steady. They barely won against Walkersville 16-15. Hunt said it was the first time she ever saw the number that high on the visitors' side of the scoreboard.
"I don't think we had 15 runs scored on us for all of the rest of the season," said third baseman Kasey Stiles.
"From that point on, they got continually better," Hunt said.
By mid-season, they had beaten Brunswick and the momentum was building.
"They said it was a fluke, but we beat them three times," said player Lauren Wildasin.
They also developed some traditions that helped them focus on winning. They wore "no error" bands around their wrists for each game and had a "happy circle" before each game. The players linked
thumbs in a circle with their index fingers pointing into the center of the circle to remind them they were number one. Then each player would say something nice about the teammate on her left.
Stiles also refused to wash her socks once the team started winning.
Centerfielder Brittany Brown said, "In one film you can hear her say in the huddle she's going to take off her shoes. Everybody started running."
Even the championship game wasn't that worrisome for the Cougars once they reached their 4-0 lead.
"Winning was awesome," said Hunt. "We had been to the championship before and it was frustrating not winning."
With only four seniors graduating, the team is hoping to continue its winning tradition next year.