When it comes to softball in the Patriot District, one team has refused to let go of its grip at the top. South County has won each of the past six district championships, and its 7-1 record so far this season has maintained hopes of keeping that streak alive next month.
Yet that lone loss could signal the Stallions are in danger of losing their grip on the competition this year. The 7-5 defeat came last Wednesday at the hands of Lake Braddock, a young, undefeated squad determined to buck the trend this spring.
Since defeating Centreville 2-1 in the season opener, Lake Braddock has outscored its opponents 66-8 en route to a 7-0 record. On Tuesday night the Bruins handed a 12-0 loss to West Potomac, a team that had won each of its three Patriot District contests entering that matchup.
Last year Lake Braddock rode a youthful lineup featuring five freshmen starters to a 20-4 record. It’s a similar formula this season, as the Bruins carry eight underclassmen and just one senior. A number of talented freshmen were also placed on the JV team this spring, which could bode well for more promising seasons ahead.
“It’s a lot of fun. I love coaching young kids,” said George Rumore, now in his sixth year coaching Lake Braddock. “They’re very tight. So far they’re just connecting very well.”
Rather than try to lay the hammer down on his impressionable squad, Rumore has opted to let his players carry the same loose demeanor on the softball field and off it. He makes sure practice is equal parts work and fun, and he encourages players to attend team dinners every Sunday.
In the Lake Braddock press box, you’ll find a chart listing the names of each player on the team, many of them with stickers dotted to their side. It’s part of Rumore’s “Pez award,” a weekly honor in the form of a Pez dispenser given to one or more players for outstanding performances. At the end of the season, Rumore adds up the stickers and awards a shiny plaque to the player with the largest Pez collection.
Two players who can expect to rack up candy this week are Amanda Hendrix and Ashley Flesch. Hendrix, a sophomore first baseman and the Bruins’ closer at the mound, hit the first two home runs of her high school career to put an exclamation point on her team’s 12-0 rout against West Potomac on Tuesday. She went 4 for 4 at the plate and fanned three batters in the final two innings to secure the shutout on the mound.
“I think the main reason that it turned out that way is because we had the energy that just kept going through everyone,” Hendrix said. “We had a whole bunch of backup, and every single person was hitting. It was a really good mood to be in for the whole team.”
Flesch, the team’s starting pitcher, tallied nine strikeouts in her five innings on the mound Tuesday. A broken ulna bone in her forearm ended Flesch’s sophomore season just prior to the start of district play last year, resulting in Hendrix stepping into the role of starting pitcher as a freshman. Flesch was sidelined for eight weeks and returned to travel ball last summer, paving the way for the impressive comeback she’s experienced so far this season.
“I think it was a really good experience for me,” Flesch said. “It just gave me a different point of view of the game sitting on the bench cheering on my team. It made me really appreciate every moment you’re out there and not take it for granted.”
Of their three freshmen this year, the Bruins have relied most heavily on Caroline Jones. In addition to her role as starting catcher, Jones is a reliable presence at the plate, as shown by the two RBI’s she contributed to the team’s 17 hits against West Potomac.
On the other end of the spectrum is Mallory Gerndt, the squad’s lone senior whose consistency at short stop has helped Lake Braddock minimize errors. A verbal commit to Newberry College, Gerndt can also mix it up on offense with solid skills at bat.
Though South County is at the top of their list, the Bruins are taking a cautious game-by-game approach to avoid overlooking other opponents along the way. Their next game comes Friday against Woodson, a squad that has given up 57 runs in its last three outings.
“All the teams in our district are pretty tough, so you’ve got to come ready to play everybody or you’re going to find yourself in trouble,” Rumore said.
Lake Braddock players were thrilled to defeat the South County team that handed them a 2-0 loss in last year’s district final. But the Bruins don’t want to fall into the same trap that bit them last season, when they beat South County 3-2 in mid-April before dropping their next two games against the Stallions. The two foes square off again on April 23, a night that could set the tone for a critical final stretch of the season.
“I’m really glad we beat them, but we’re going to have to face them again,” Hendrix said. “We need to come out just as strong, hopefully stronger.”