As the postseason looms, the rest of Prince George's County should be aware that Laurel's softball team seems to be peaking at the right time.
The only teams boasting better records than the Spartans (11-5) are Eleanor Roosevelt, Bowie and Flowers.
Freshman pitcher Ashley Woodall, senior second baseman Dani Conway and freshman third baseman/shortstop Katie Cardinal have been the catalysts.
"It's definitely been my best year," Laurel fifth-year coach Julie Provino said. "Now, there's more talk in the county about us. People are like, 'We have to worry about Laurel.'"
Four teams that gave Laurel trouble in past seasons — Northwestern, DuVal, High Point and Wise — haven't been such a problem this spring.
In fact, the Spartans have beaten Wise twice by the 10-run slaughter rule, and have defeated DuVal and Northwestern once this season.
"In past years, we haven't beaten them," Provino said. "This year, we have beaten all of them."
With the Spartans playing at a high level, they can't wait for the playoffs to start.
Provino said her team will be a No. 4 seed in the Class 4A South Region, earning a first-round bye on May 9.
The Spartans will then host a game five days later, before hitting the road.
"I expect us to win in the second round because we'll play one of the teams we have already crushed," said Provino, whose squad has won four playoffs games in the past four seasons. "Then we would see Roosevelt in the semifinals."
That wouldn't be good news, based on results from recent years and one game in particular this season.
Unbeaten Roosevelt battered Laurel, 16-7, in mid-April.
But the Spartans wouldn't back down from the challenge of facing the county's best team again.
"We played seven innings with Roosevelt and stayed in the game," Provino explained. "We didn't get mercy-ruled by them. In past years, they wouldn't even throw their top pitcher against us."
Provino loves her ace, Woodall, who tossed a five-inning, no-hitter in a 33-0 victory over Parkdale last month.
"Her ball moves a lot and she definitely has a lot more speed than any pitcher that I have had in the past," Provino said. "At Laurel, we never get pitchers. I lose all the pitchers to Roosevelt and Pallotti. I usually have to take a girl who wants to learn to pitch and teach her.
"She will play this summer for the Bowie Blue Jays, so I know she will improve," the coach added.
The Spartans can hit, too, winning nine games by nine runs or more with a lineup boasting Cardinal (batting .540), Conway (.613), senior first baseman Jamilia Mitchell (.615, 3 home runs, 17 RBIs), senior catcher Zelle Ndika (.525, 4 triples), junior outfielder Tia Craft (.500) and her sister, Michelle Craft (.474).
"We have a lot of big bats this year," Provino said. "Usually, we are hitting the ball to the warning track."
Fielding, though, has been a headache at times and Provino needs it to improve for the playoffs.
In a 19-6 loss to Flowers on May 3, Laurel made four errors leading to nine unearned runs.
"We have to play better defense," Provino said. "We can't sit on our heels and expect the pitcher to strike out everybody."
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