Jay Hidden contributed to this article
Entering Dundalk Women’s Softball Coach Larry Cornelison’s basement office before practice, a half-dozen young players crowd the small space, talking and laughing, clearly in their comfort zone, as the coach updates stats at his desk. It might seem an unlikely hangout spot for young athletes on a sunny Tuesday in March.
But after meeting Cornelison and hearing him talk about his team, the camaraderie and enthusiasm of the players is anything but surprising. “We practice five days a week, two to three hours a day,” he explains. “We travel together, we eat together…. It’s not just, ‘play ball and go home.’ [College softball] is an exciting sport that’s growing well…. You wouldn’t believe some of the talent that’s coming to the team, unless you come out and watch the game.”
The CCBC Dundalk Lady Lions Softball Team holds a 4-3 overall record so far this season. The team plays Division II women’s fast-pitch softball in the Maryland Junior College (MD JUCO) Conference, which is Region 20 of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). There are 13 teams in the conference, competing for a regional title and a bid for the national tournament. During the season the women will play conference games, which affect team standings, and non-conference games. Coach Cornelison came up playing baseball, and as an adult played over-30. For two decades, he’s coached men’s, women’s and coed teams, both slow-pitch and fast-pitch. He was the girls’ softball coach at Eastern Tech High School for four years before coming to CCBC three years ago.
When speaking to Cornelison, it quickly becomes obvious that he is passionate about the game. It can be readily seen in the way his eyes light up and in the tone of his voice. Cornelison began his baseball career in little league. He played at progressively higher levels until his daughter began playing softball at age 12. Cornelison traded playing for coaching his daughter and her team. That began his 20-year career in coaching.
To hear Cornelison tell it, the game of softball sounds anything but soft. He describes the game’s pace as much more intense than baseball. With a smaller field, the pitch comes fast, and a good batter has the skill to react. Games can be much higher scoring, but well-matched players result in what he calls a “pitcher-catcher duel” and a much lower final score.
“The guys on the baseball team can’t hit the balls that come out [of the pitching machine]. They come at you too quickly. But my players can,” says the head coach.
Most game events are double-headers, which is more manageable in softball’s six-inning format than it would be in baseball’s nine. The pitch is an underhand windmill pitch. Unlike baseball, in softball it’s common for a single pitcher to last a whole game.
The CCBC Dundalk Lady Lions Softball team roster, which includes five sophomores and 13 freshmen, is the result of active recruiting from area high schools, and a rigorous tryout process. Says Cornelison, “If you want to take somebody’s spot, you’ve got to show me you can outplay that player.”
Despite rigorous practices and other demands, Cornelison keeps the team’s spirits up by using a light touch in managing his players. The players are allowed to listen to loud music to psych themselves up on the way to the games, he notes.
Cornelison sees great potential in the team this spring, praising all his players for their hard work at practice and on the game field. He points out that a handful of his better players are truly exceptional, what he calls, “the real deal.”
Third base Hannah Thomas, one of the team’s four pitchers is, he says, “an outstanding player anywhere in the infield” and batted 4 for 5 at the recent Niagra (NY) Community College game.
Pitcher Gianna Marchini has a speed of 51mph and the stamina to pitch two games in a row.
Catcher Nicole Grover plays both for Dundalk and a travel team out of Kingsville, batting about .400 last fall.
Centerfielder/2nd base/catcher Corrie Seitler, “can play anywhere on the field,” and batted nearly .500 in the fall.
Some team members are dual athletes. Paige Augustyniak, Amanda Jackson, Lauren Maggio, and Rebecca Plantholt play on the soccer team. Courtney Krout and Jordyn Newman are members of the volleyball team.
It’s different, Cornelison notes, coaching at the high school level where you get to keep players for four years. At community college they’re with the team two years at most. “Letters of Intent” are crucial to keeping players on the team until the end of the season, since talented players often plan to transfer to a 4-year college, and might otherwise get recruited mid-season.
Asked his inspiration for coaching women’s softball, the head coach talks about his own daughter, who played on the Dundalk team until last year. She transferred to the Catonsville campus for her academic program, and Cornelison stayed on for Dundalk for his second year as head coach.
He values his players for who they are off the field, not just on. Cornelison urges them to take time for academics, family and work in addition to sports. Athletes must pass 12 -credit hours to participate, and most easily meet that demand. Several players are on the Dean’s List, including Nicole Grover, Hannah Thomas, and Gianna Marchini.
In a new strategy, this spring he has players share the “team captain” responsibilities across the whole team, rather than appoint captains.
“There are no rivalries,” he says of the players. “They tutor each other [academically], they have big sister/little sister, and they support each other.”
The Lady Lions team gets financial support from a mix of Athletic Department funding, commercial endorsement, and team fundraising. CCBC Head of Athletics Brian Farrell does a great job supporting the softball team, says Cornelison. Recent acquisitions paid for by the Department include a pitching machine, press box, tarp, batting cages, concussions testing equipment, and lightning hazard test equipment. With Department support and a Nike endorsement the team got new uniforms this year and, along with the Essex and Catonsville campuses, new logos.
The team does a lot of fundraising on its own to cover expenses, with the head coach taking on the lion’s share of planning. He talks good-naturedly about banquets, car washes, and trips to the Ravens stadium in uniform. One of the two new pitching machines was bought with proceeds from team fundraisers.
On May 11, the team will be holding a Bull Roast at St. Claire’s Church in Essex. Robbie’s First Base is sponsoring the roast. Other fundraising efforts include: a Basket Bingo in the fall, car washes in the summer, and candy sales.
Cornelison also makes sure that every single player gets some scholarship money.
The head coach says his assistant coach, Chris Krout, jokes that the players can always get a call back even when he can’t. Cornelison coaches six days a week, taking a day off only on Sunday.
The Lions’ Softball season began with two losses against Chesapeake on March 2. But the team quickly recovered with a win against Niagra (NY) Community College, 8-5, on March 4. The following Saturday, March 9, Dundalk gave up one game to Erie (Pa.) Community College with a score of 4-9, but took back a win in the second game with a 10-2 score.
Wednesday, March 13, the gains continued as Dundalk bested Garrett Community College by a wide margin in both games, walking away with wins 13-5 and 17-1. This puts CCBC at 4-3 overall with a winning streak of three games and a .571 overall average.
Conference play determines who plays in the NJCAA Tournament, or “Nationals.” In 2012, CCBC Dundalk rival CCBC Catonsville took the Region 20 title for a place in the coveted tournament, and a shot at the national title. Conference standings for all 13 Region 20 teams can be found at Maryland JUCO’s website — provided the teams find time to update the dozens of player and team stats for each game.
Every spring, “the goal is to get to May,” says Cornelison. “Getting to the third week in May, you go to Nationals.”
But whatever the final score, Cornelison speaks of his team with pride. “Ten minutes before the game, the players circle up on the field. I know they’re talking about the game. And I know they’re going to give it everything they’ve got.
The Lions’ softball field is below the football field, in clear view from Merritt Boulevard, with parking available in the field house lot. For more information on the team’s schedule, player rosters, and a link to the team’s NJCAA and MD JUCO stats and standings, please check out the Women’s Softball Team page on the CCBC website,
There are currently four positions open on the team roster. Students interested in joining the team should contact Coach Larry Cornelison at 443-840-3703.
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