Jessica Roche, the Langley High second year girls’ softball coach, cannot help but be somewhat proud of her young team’s modest accomplishments this spring.
No, the Saxons do not have a winning record and they are not at the forefront of peoples’ thoughts when the conversation turns to `Liberty District softball.’ Getting the brunt of the attention are more seasoned Liberty teams such as McLean, perhaps the top team in the entire Northern Region, Madison, which is giving the Highlanders a run for their money in the district standings, as well as talented Marshall and Stone Bridge squads. All four were ranked in the latest Region Top 10 Coach’s Poll.
Playing in the region’s toughest district is not an easy thing, especially when 75 percent of your 12-member varsity squad is made up of freshmen or sophomores. That has been the scenario this season for Langley, which, all things considered, was a pretty respectable 7-11 going into this week’s play.
“The girls have been playing real well all season,” said Roche, a former head coach of the Thomas Stone High School softball team in Waldorf, Md. before coming to the Langley program in 2009. “We are a young team. We’re freshmen and sophomore dominated. It’s not an easy [district] schedule by any means. I think we’ve passed some peoples’ expectations.”
Langley, 3-7 in district play, has beaten South Lakes twice and Jefferson once to account for its district wins. Against the elite teams of the district, the Saxons have not been able to come out with any victories so far. Langley played Fairfax tough in a 4-3 district home loss on April 6. The Saxons also played first place McLean well in a 6-0 home loss on April 16.
With just a couple more weeks remaining in the regular season before the start of the district tournament, set to being on May 18, Langley hopes to earn a couple more district wins. Going into this week, the Saxons had four more games remaining – home affairs against Marshall (Tuesday, April 4) and Stone Bridge (Friday, April 7) this week, and games versus McLean and Jefferson next week. The Friday, May 14 contest versus Jefferson will be Langley’s Senior Night.
Coach Roche said her team has hit the ball well at times against some of the district’s better pitchers. But she also said the Saxons need to hit better on a more consistent basis. That will likely come over the final portion of the season and on into next year.
“We need to get our bats going,” said the coach.
Several Langley players are putting together solid seasons. The team’s lone senior, Adrianne Engel, has been one of the district’s most versatile players. Her main position is catcher, but she has also seen time in the outfield as well as the infield corner positions at first and third base. Where ever Roche has put her, Engel has played hard and well.
“For a player to be that flexible on the field, she’s been a role model,” said Roche, of her lone 12th grader. “She’s a key batter for us – a kid you want up to hit when you have a runner on third. She has confidence.”
Mandy Moll, one of two juniors on the Langley roster, has given the Saxons good defensive play at the shortstop position.
“She’s an excellent softball player and comes up with big plays and big hits,” said Roche. “She’s quite a trooper, leader and role model.”
Courtney Conklin, Langley’s other junior, is one of the team’s three pitchers and also plays first base. She only in recent years learned the nuances of playing first base.
“She’s been phenomenal there,” said her coach.
Conklin has also proven to be a steady hitter and a terrific bunter.
Langley has utilized three pitchers this season – Conklin, sophomore Julia Weeks and sophomore Jenna Dunn. Weeks, when she is not on the mound, gives Langley stellar play at the hot corner.
“She plays an almost flawless third base,” said Roche, of Weeks. “At the plate she’s a force to be reckoned with.”
Dunn also plays in the infield when she is not pitching.
“All three pitchers [Conklin, Weeks and Dunn]play other positions as well,” said Roche, of her pitching trio. “The advantage [to using three pitchers] is that if one person is not throwing well, I can put another pitcher in. They are all always ready to go.”
Other key members of this year’s team have been freshmen Ashley Panetta and Kaitryn Evans. Panetta has seen action both at catcher position and in the outfield. She is a stellar presence both at backstop and at the plate with a bat in her hand.
“She can bunt and slap the ball, and she has power,” said Roche, of Panetta’s game. “She can just do everything. Behind the plate, she is very quick on her throws.”
Evans, a .350 hitter, has played a steady second base in her first year with the high school team.
“She is such a solid second baseman and hardly ever makes an error,” said Roche. “She’s had at least one hit every game.”
Roche loves the makeup of her team and loves the fact that her players are willing to put the Saxons as a team ahead of individual accolades or goals. The fact that so many of her players play several positions is an indication of the selflessness mindset of Langley softball.
“They understand it’s a team,” said the coach. “We’re not self-serving. We’re trying to do the best we can for the team.”
Langley will hope to be a successful underdog at the upcoming districts. A first round win would advance the Saxons to the 16-team Northern Region playoff field.
“If we play our best game and do everything we’re supposed to, we should go on to regionals,” said Roche, who growing up played high school softball under her dad in southern California. “The district tournament is such an electrifying time. You don’t know which way [a game] will go.”
<b>THIS PAST SATURDAY</b> saw the Saxons play their parents and other family members in a fun-filled exhibition on the Langley ball diamond. The event, known as the `100 Inning Game Fundraiser,’ helped raise money for new nets needed for the softball program’s batting cages. Langley players, both varsity and JV team members, had raised donations on a per innings basis.
The day’s softball, played under sunny, hot conditions, went from 9 a.m. through 3 p.m. About 40 innings in all were played with numerous water breaks taken throughout the day. There were volunteer umpires, an open concession stand and, for the most part, lots of terrific softball. A pitching machine was used in order to save the Saxon pitchers from wearing out their arms.
“It was important for the kids to spend time with their families,” said Roche. “We had a great time. It was wonderful and it was hot. We turned on the sprinklers every few innings.”