Young Laurel team looks to represent District III with gusto

For the District III team representing the host region in the 2007 Senior Softball League World Series at the Pyle Center in Roxana on Aug. 5, hope and enthusiasm are at an all-time high. Laurel Little League is a young team — 9 of 14 members of the team could have played junior league softball this season — but they have plenty of experienced and talent.

softball 1: A Laurel pitcher from the 2005 Senior League World Series in Roxana throws one over home plate. Laurel will again represent District III in the 2007 Senior League World Series.Coastal Point • FILE PHOTO
A Laurel pitcher from the 2005 Senior League World Series in Roxana throws one over home plate. Laurel will again represent District III in the 2007 Senior League World Series.

A majority of the team could have stayed behind in the junior softball league to improve on last season’s third-place finish in the regional tournament in Syracuse, N.Y. But they decided to keep the team intact and make the jump to the seniors.

They knew they had a very good chance to make it to the Senior Softball League World Series and that their girls wouldn’t be intimidated by playing the most elite teams in the nation and possibly the world.

Eight of Laurel’s nine starters also made a jump on their respective high school teams this year, including three freshmen. District III’s starting third-baseman and pitcher, Jenna Allen, started on Sussex Tech’s state championship team in 2006-2007. And, when one takes into consideration that these youngsters — freshman and sophomores — play in arguably the toughest conference in the state, if not the region or nation, and then one can only imagine how they’ll fare in this year’s World Series.

This squad beat the Pennsylvania team that ended up ranked third in the world, 4-2 in the regional tournament last year. And Laurel has represented District III and western Sussex County three of the last four years, including this year.

The two prior Laurel teams — which included, most notably, Brittany Joseph, who is heading to play first base for Florida State — finished fifth and fourth in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Nanticoke placed second in the world following a 3-2 loss to the Eastern representative, Milton, Pa., in the championship game the following year.

And with such a prestigious tradition to protect, many — including the Laurel coaching staff — believe that they’ll not only compete but compete for the championship.

“Laurel is the traditional rural sports town and softball is huge here,” said District III head coach Jeff Evans, who originally taught in the Cape Henlopen school district. “Cape Henlopen’s athletes are a bit more diverse in the way that when softball season is over then they’re big in [field] hockey and lacrosse, whereas our girl [concentrate] heavily on softball, and it’s shown through the years.”

“We’re not going out to represent just our district, state or region to get the tar kicked out of us,” District III assistant coach Rodney Hearne said. Though not cocky, he noted, “We’re very confident that we can compete at the highest level.”

Laurel dispatched the odds-on favorite, Cape Henlopen Little League, twice in the district tournament, by a score of 6-1, and finished the tournament with a 34-3 scoring ratio.

And while the District III has an abundance of power, Evans said their strategy isn’t to rely on extra base hits or home runs but instead on their pitching and small ball.
softball 2: A Laurel player swings away during the 2005 World Series in Roxana.Coastal Point • FILE PHOTO
A Laurel player swings away during the 2005 World Series in Roxana.

Stephanie Wheatley, who started in split duty alongside Caitlin Dolby as a freshman at Laurel, and Jenna Allen, who had a heap of pitching at Sussex Tech this year, both top off in the low 60’s and routinely throw in the high 50’s, according to Evans.

Last season, during the regional tournament, both pitchers competed in a high-speed pitching contest and finished one and two, respectively. And, though the Senior Softball League World Series isn’t a high-speed pitching contest, having two pitchers that throw gas will give them an advantage in some games.
Hitting-wise, Evans knows that he has players that can make a pitcher regret grooving a pitch down the center of the plate, but the approach will be “score one run an inning.” And teams do that by laying down bunts to get on base or move base runners, as well as with good base running and being patient enough to wait for good pitches to hit.

“We’re focusing on bunting and base running,” Evans said. “I’m a football guy, and bunting and base running is the special teams of softball.

“We stress the fundamentals, and our goal is to get one run an inning. If we can do that, then that’s fabulous, that would be great. Because playing for the big inning doesn’t always work, and that would cause us to lose momentum, and we’re hoping to stay constant.”

District III’s Laurel will play the representative from the East, which was undetermined as the Coastal Point went to press on Aug. 5. For more information pertaining to the Senior Softball League World Series, consult the Series information on page A72 of this issue. The Coastal Point will also be producing two issues of our special Home Plate publication during the Series. Copies will be available at the ball fields during the event.