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Welcome to “Jeopardy!”
And the first answer is: Laney.
Question: What is the answer to all my test questions?
A similar version of the popular game show took place last week as the West Brunswick High School softball team prepared for its game at Laney.
Even though the March 24 game was early in the season, was beating Laney on the minds of the Trojans?
“No,” said West coach Joe Noble, suppressing a smile. “The only thing we told them was when they went to school Tuesday and if they had a test, they answered the test questions ‘Laney.’ ”
Yes, beating Laney was definitely on the minds of the players and the coaches. And West beat Laney 11-6. It was just the second time since 1996 that West (3-0 in the conference, 9-0 overall) has beaten Laney, a Class 4-A team. (Amanda Noble was the winning pitcher in 2003 in a 4-2 victory.)
“It was something that we really wanted to accomplish,” coach Noble said.
West scored twice in the first inning, but Laney took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the second. West regained the lead for good in third when it scored six runs. West scored three more runs in the seventh to clinch the victory.
At the plate, West’s batters were patient enough not to swing at the off-speed pitches, Noble said. Courtney Clewis was 3-for-5 with one RBI. Kristi Vance was 2-for-3. Lucia Bowling was 2-for-4. Stacy Jackson was 2-for-5 with one RBI. Anna Hart, Carly White, Paige Ward and Gabby Sanders each had one RBI.
White pitched all seven innings, giving up eight hits. She walked six and struck out three.
West’s unbeaten start is an unexpected surprise. West, a Class 3-A team, entered the season without four-year starting pitcher Heather Carter and without graduated shortstop Amber Rampero. Their replacements have performed well. Junior pitcher Carly White is 9-0. Freshman shortstop Gabby Sanders has been solid as a fielder.
“During the (2008) season,” Noble said, “we got Carly pitching time trying to get her ready for this year. But she was untested coming into this year, so we really were unsure about how she would respond. And she has thrown nine great ballgames. She’s working at 60-61 mph, topping out at 63-64 mph. You can’t ask for any more out of a high school pitcher.
“Even though we have a freshman at shortstop, she’s played with this group for a couple of years in the summer, and they just love her. She fits right in with the scheme of what we’re trying to do defensively.”
Noble also gives credit to assistants Jeff Carter, Mike Cronin and Donald Davis. They work with Noble during fall softball and summer softball. All those games and practices help get players ready for the high school season.
“It makes things so much easier,” Noble said. “Your assistant coaches make a head coach’s job easy when you surround yourself with good people that the kids like and who work well with the kids.”
This is team of 11 skilled players, including outfielder Kristi Vance and substitute Alexis Johnson. All five of the starting seniors—Bowling, Clewis, Hart, Emily Gore and Jackson—are drawing interest from colleges. But it is their leadership, along with senior Dreanna Williams, that has been just as important to the undefeated start as their skills.
“You don’t have a team without it,” Noble said about senior leadership. “It is shown in our win-loss record the last two years how important senior leadership is.”
One other team attribute is its togetherness.
“They get along,” Noble said. “They work together as a team. They like each other. They have been playing together for years. They know each other well. They know they can trust each other to do her job.”
For Noble, that makes for a good softball team—and he said he needs to take a cue from them.
“I don’t have to do anything with this team,” he said. “It’s more worrying about the coaching staff. We have a tendency to get (tense). They’re so relaxed and confident in their abilities.
“We have been trying for four years to get this bunch to this point, where an error doesn’t bother them and they’re confident in their abilities. And now we’re worried. We (coaches) have to relax, trusting that we have taught them correctly.”
West has outscored its conference foes 34-11 in three games. West’s other main conference foe is New Hanover, and a victory over it would put West in good position to win its first Mideastern Conference title. (West played New Hanover March 31, too late for this edition.) A 20-win season is a realistic possibility and would be another first for the Trojan program. (West won 19 games last season and in 2003.)
“I don’t think we’ve peaked,” Noble said. “We’re still going to open it up on somebody one day.”
The players seem to be focused on one goal at a time. At a preseason team dinner, Noble asked each player to list her personal and team goals.
“The conference championship (was listed) quite a bit,” Noble said, “but not one of them (listed) a state championship. They were really focused on winning the conference championship first.”
Later, when Noble asked, “Is there anything else you want to accomplish,” they replied, “We want to win state.”
MICHAEL PAUL is the sports editor at the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.