Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Storm having a sunny summer

MVSA softball program wins Howard County tournament

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Former four-year Gaithersburg High softball starter Amanda Kibbe hadn’t played competitive ball in about eight months when she first returned from college and started up with the Montgomery Village Sports Association Storm 18-under team in late May. She’d originally been slated to play at NCAA Division II Millersville (Pa.) University in Pennsylvania but a meteorology course load and full-time softball schedule proved too demanding. So she hung up her glove and bat.

Kibbe’s shown no signs of rust in the Storm’s summer season, though. She hit four home runs and knocked in 13 runs in six games to help the team clinch the Howard County Firecracker tournament in Elkridge Saturday and Sunday. The Storm went 5-1 over the weekend to win its second consecutive tourney championship. It defeated the Gambrills Angels, 9-5, in Sunday’s final.

Former four-year Damascus High starting third baseman Ellen Smith, who led the Swarmin’ Hornets to their second state final appearance in three years in 2007, opted out of varsity softball at college as well, but has also played a major role in the Storm’s success this summer. Smith batted 3 for 4 with a home run in Sunday’s championship game and ended the tournament with six runs batted in.

‘‘Amanda won’t tell you, but she had her bat at school and she’d take some swings in her dorm room,” Storm coach Dave Jacobs said. ‘‘Ellen was out taking hitting. And they’d throw whenever they got the chance. You can tell they really missed it. They’ve had a few nagging injuries early, which is what you’d expect from someone who hasn’t played college. But they’ve been smashing the ball, making all the plays. They knew they needed to be leaders.”

The Storm (27-13) is young in 2008. But backed by leadership from four-year Storm members Kibbe and Smith, recent Gaithersburg graduate Becca Kirshner, who’ll play on scholarship at Division I Howard University in the fall, and former Churchill standout Katelyn Kumm, who just wrapped up her first season at West Liberty State (W.Va.) College, the team has been pretty dominating this summer.

The Storm’s win this past weekend marked its fifth top-3 finish in seven tournaments — it’s won two tournaments, finished second twice and third once. Behind solid pitching from rising Sherwood senior left-handed pitcher Erin McMakin (1-1 with a save in Elkridge) and recent Wheaton graduate Amy Grubic (3-0), and strong offensive play from Kibbe, Kumm, Smith, Kirshner, recent Poolesville graduate Allison Gost, rising Wootton senior shortstop Rachel Baron and rising Good Counsel junior Karah Kuczarski, the Storm outscored its opponents 46-11 in Elkridge.

‘‘I think the girls’ willingness to work hard has been a big factor,” Jacobs said. ‘‘We’re young but we’re getting good production from the younger players as well as the older ones. We’re scoring a lot of runs. We’re getting a lot of hitting production and we’re playing good defense behind our pitching.”

With its results, the Storm has already picked up four national tournament bids — two for PONY Nationals and two for United States Specialty Sports Association nationals. The Storm will compete in Pony Nationals July 25-31 in Ohio. The team finished in the top 33 at last year’s tournament and is looking for a Sweet 16 berth in 2008.

‘‘All the teams are good at nationals and you don’t know who you’re going to draw but I think we have a chance to do well,” Jacobs said. ‘‘We’re hitting our stride right now. We can hit with any team and we can field with any team.”