Laurel senior pitcher Ashley Woodall has helped the Spartans to a 3-0 start this season. After an away game today the Spartans return home against Largo on Friday, April 8.
Laurel senior pitcher Ashley Woodall has helped the Spartans to a 3-0 start this season. After an away game today the Spartans return home against Largo on Friday, April 8. (File photo/2014)

Senior pitcher Ashley Woodall is making life easier for Laurel High softball coach Jennifer McGillin, and not just because she's the most prominent of a slew of returning seniors hoping to guide the Spartans to a regional title this spring.

The last two years, Laurel advanced to the regional championship game where the seasons ended in losses to Bowie and Eleanor Roosevelt, respectively.

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Having Woodall back in the fold is a boost for her prowess as a pitcher, cleanup hitter and as a mentor to younger players on the squad.

"I might be working with one kid on something, and then Ashley will help by teaching a younger player while I'm doing that," McGillin said. "I trust Ashley because she knows what she's doing."

Knowing that Woodall will be in the circle for almost every game is another plus for a squad that also returns seniors catcher/first baseman Dominga Jones, center fielder Sharon Gilbertz, left fielder Narilyn Gyedu, shortstop Jade Faulkner, utility player Heather Healey and third baseman Aulaysha Bannister.

Junior right fielder Elizabeth Leishear, sophomore second baseman Justice Abbott and freshman first baseman Timia Hull will also be counted on to give the Spartans enough talent to remain competitive in the county chase.

First of all, Woodall's arsenal — fastball, curve and riser — make her tough to hit, as evidenced by a 7-1 streak last year during which the team did not allow more than six runs per outing, including a 6-1 loss to Roosevelt.

"Ashley has really worked hard to learn all those pitches," said McGillin, who is in her third year as head coach. "She's our workhorse."

McGillin has a special bond with the right-hander, considering that she first taught her how to pitch in Laurel Little League when Woodall was just 10.

It's also a relief to know that Woodall is entrenched in the middle of the lineup.

"We have a couple of power hitters," McGillin said. "But we also have a lot more speed than we've had in the past. We need to be aggressive and use our speed get a lot of runners on base until Ashley and Sharon can drive them in."

The Spartans will not, though, use the short game or employ a slap-hitting style that has become increasingly popular in recent years.

"We need to learn more of the fundamentals before we try that," McGillin said. "I was a power hitter (at DuVal High in the mid 1990s), so I'm used to hitting line drives."

What McGillin does emphasize is for her players to learn to play more than one position.

"I was a pitcher in high school, but when I got to college (Franklin Pierce University) I had to learn to catch if I wanted to remain a starter," she said. "It's the same way with these girls. I'm trying to teach them that it's not a bad thing to earn another position to make yourself more useful to your coach."

The Spartans' goal for the season is clear.

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"We want to win the region," McGillin said. "Other than that, with so many seniors, I know it's going to be an emotional year. I want them to have fun and do well. I'm going to give them a good experience. I always loved being part of team, so I encourage the girls to play outside the high school season as well."

Laurel (3-0) opened the season with convincing wins over Crossland, 15-4, High Point, 33-11 and Henry A. Wise, 31-3.

The Spartans are playing at DuVal today at 4:30 p.m. before returning home on Friday, April 8 against Largo at 4:30 p.m.

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