It was the kind of practice that makes coaches smile. The players were loose, confident and alert. Fastballs popped into catchers' mitts, line drives jumped off bats and infielders scooped up ground balls easily.
"We're a glamor team, that's why the good players want to play for us," said Walt Ferrier, 51, assistant coach and scorekeeper of the Vienna Shamrocks girls' fast-pitch softball team, as he watched the workout.
Softball doesn't get much more glamorous in this league, for girls 18 and under, than it does for the l7 members of the Shamrocks. This year, the Shamrocks won 31 of their 38 games, including 20 of 21 in league play; they captured the Northern Virginia championship and the title at the post-season Metro tournament; they came in second in the Central Atlantic Regional Tournament, which included teams from Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, the District and Virginia.
Their success landed the Shamrocks an invitation to the National Senior Girls fast-pitch softball tournament, which begins today in Santa Maria, Calif.
Their skills and confidence were on display last weekend as they went through their final workout at Caffi Field in Vienna before leaving for California earlier this week. Tom Orndorff, 33, now in his 10th year as manager of the Shamrocks, watched the practice approvingly but expressed some concerns as he thought about the double-elimination tournament ahead.
"Our pitching and our youth are my chief worries," Orndorff said, even as standout pitchers Marybeth Daucher and Kay Herbstritt whipped in pitches that have been clocked at 80 to 85 miles an hour. "We only have three l8-year-olds on the team, and you never know how the crowds out there will affect these kids.
"I'm just afraid our kids might not be tournament tough. We'll be playing teams out there that have been in 10 to 12 tournaments this season alone. We've been in three. Some of the teams out there play a hundred games in a season.
"Then again, our young players give us enthusiasm which is good for us," he added. "They want to show they can play with the best in the country."
Countering Orndorff's fears are the performances the Shamrocks have turned in this season. The team is well-balanced, with a different leader in practically every offensive category. There are ll hitters batting over .300, including two -- Donna Shipp and Diane Sisley -- who are over .400.
Other offensive leaders include Daucher with four home runs, Kathy Stevenson with three triples, Colleen Graves with five doubles and Becky Lemons who has 29 runs-batted-in. Only shortstop Rita Etter leads in more than one offensive category. She has scored 43 runs, tapped out 35 base hits, been on base 62 percent of the times she's been to bat and driven in game-winning runs on five occasions.
Orndorff calls pitchers Herbstritt and Daucher his "aces." Herbstritt posted an 11-2 record this season, striking out 64 batters in 68 innings pitched and compiling an earned run average of 0.31. Daucher, who recently became the first woman to receive a full softball scholarship to the University of Virginia, won four and lost one. Shipp and Michele Polsgrove also combined for nine wins.
Orndorff said the Shamrocks' success is due largely to the team's enthusiasm. That was evident at practice, where players offered encouragement to each other and listened carefully to the manager's instructions.
As Orndorff drilled the defense on "situation plays" -- plays that may occur with players on base during a game -- team members on the sidelines listened attentively.
"When a batter's hands go up to bunt," Orndorff told the fielders, "I want the outfielders to start moving. Outfielders aren't out of the play just because it looks like a bunt. Suppose the batter takes a half swing instead? The ball may wind up over an infielder's head because the infielders are moving in. Then it could be the outfielder's ball."
Orndorff had players on the field go through the situation several times before moving to his next point. Throughout the drills he emphasized the need to "cut down lead runners" in the national tournament. "Around here," he said, "we know if we give up a run or two, we're going to get it back. At nationals, we can't give up any runs."