After a 20-4 regular season loss to rival Bowie High School, few expected the Charles H. Flowers High softball team to put up much of a fight against the then two-time defending Class 4A South Region champion Bulldogs in last year’s Class 4A South Region final.
But the second-seeded Jaguars regrouped to snap Bowie’s 19-game win streak and two-year reign atop the county with a 5-2 win and their first region title since 2009, second overall.
Flowers coach Molly Bender said the Jaguars have every intention of proving last spring’s state semifinal run was no fluke.
“We definitely want to start a streak [of our own]. We know we’ve been one of the most competitive programs, we’ve been the top two every year. It’s been us and Bowie in the final [the last four years], but people are still overlooking us. It’s not we got lucky, we had a group of seniors that put in a lot of extra effort,” Bender said.
Though Flowers (18-5 record in 2012) graduated seven seniors, including six starters, the Jaguars are in a similar position this year, with seven seniors looking to lead the team to a second consecutive region title.
“I think when it comes down to softball in Prince George’s County, a lot of it has to do with seniors stepping up. That’s true for any sport, the seniors have to step up and that’s what happened last year. It’s going to be the same this year,” Bender said.
A disappointing end to 2012, however, has sparked a fire under the Bulldogs, coach Joe Sullivan said.
Flowers and Bowie (19-1) have set themselves apart from the rest of the county in recent years — they have met in four straight region finals — and might be on a collision course to face each other in a fifth, but there are other teams with past postseason success looking to rejoin the mix, including the 11-time region champion Eleanor Roosevelt (17-4). The Raiders made back-to-back state championship appearances in 2007-08.
Laurel (13-6) and Henry A. Wise are also county contenders.
Though Flowers returns only three starters, the Jaguars do have experience in the pitcher’s circle with right-handed senior Marissa Hughes. Hughes, who is looking to play softball at Virginia State University in 2013-14, pitched the final three innings of last year’s region final to record the save.
She will also likely lead the Jaguars offensively, along with left fielder Danielle Dozier, a three-year starter, and returning starting catcher Markia Shade.
Despite a mostly new lineup, Flowers is not lacking in softball experience. Ten of the 15 girls on the roster participate in travel ball over the summer, Bender said.
Though Bowie graduated 2012 Gazette Player of the Year, pitcher Aryn Johnson, the Bulldogs return four All-Gazette players from last year’s squad.
Junior pitcher Lindsay Barzanti will be backed by a strong defense that includes Lexi D’Orsaneo (right field), Jessica Van Horn (third base), Ja’seph Smith (shortstop) and Raquel Valez (first base). The Bulldogs are also bolstered by the county’s strongest offense.
Roosevelt is in good position early with six returning starters, including Joya Grillo and Allanah Baiyana. The Raiders will rely on strong defense and overall team speed around the basepaths this spring.
Laurel is extremely young this year — freshmen Ashley Woodall and Katie Cardinal will share time in the pitcher’s circle. But the Spartans do return three starters and coach Julie Provino said she expects the team’s strong bats to keep them competitive as they work to improve on defense. With several new players, she is still moving pieces around in the field, she said.
Returning players Zelle Ndika (shortstop), Jamila Mitchell (first base/pitcher), Dani Conway (second base) and junior Tia Craft (center field) provide some stability.
Washington Catholic Athletic Conference programs Elizabeth Seton (20-9) and Bishop McNamara (7-13) boast veteran lineups this spring.
Seton returns five players from last year’s WCAC final squad and expectations remain high, coach Rita Rahl said. The Roadrunners, led by Gettysburg University recruit Jamie Abell at shortstop, sophomore pitcher Erica Hawkins and senior first baseman Faith Bernard, are propelled by strong defense.
Five of McNamara’s six returners played in the WCAC championship game in 2011 and coach Angelina Diehlmann said that leadership and experience will be integral in turning around last year’s sub-.500 campaign to get back there.
Four-year starting pitcher Caitlin Gordon brings experience to the circle. She’s surrounded by a talented core of returning players that includes catcher Sarah Cross and center fielder Juliet Denton, who also leads the Mustangs offensively.
2013 Prince George’s County softball players to watch
Players to watch: Amarache Ekekwe, Taylor James, Natalie Oliver
Players to watch: Jessica Van Hon, Lexi D’Orsaneo, Ja’seph Smith
Players to watch: Deidra Burton, Tolu Layeni, Genny Henry
Charles H. Flowers Jaguars
Players to watch: Marissa Hughes, Markia Shade, Danielle Dozier
Players to watch: Zelle Ndika, Jamila Mitchell, Dani Conway
Bishop McNamara Mustangs
Players to watch: Caitlin Gordon, Sarah Cross, Juliet Denton
Players to watch: Josephine Crosby, Mankaah Acho, Jaime Johnson
Eleanor Roosevelt Raiders
Players to watch: Joya Grillo, Allanah Baiyana, Emily Casto
Elizabeth Seton Roadrunners
Players to watch: Jamie Abell, Erica Hawkins, Faith Berard