Loudoun Valley softball coach Joe Spicer leaned against the fence just outside his team's dugout last week, taking a minute to evaluate the ultra-competitive Dulles District.
"Loudoun County," Spicer said, shaking his head. "That's the team that no one is talking about . . . but should be."
The Raiders are no longer under the radar, not after victories over No. 9 Park View (5-0 on Tuesday) and No. 10 Broad Run (7-4 on Thursday) moved them into sole possession of second place in the district standings behind top-ranked Loudoun Valley.
The Raiders (14-3, 10-3) are riding a five-game winning streak entering their regular-season finale against Loudoun Valley on Tuesday. In the race for second place, Loudoun County leads Park View by one game and holds the tiebreaker after sweeping the Patriots.
"We play in such a tough district that it was easy for us to get a little lost, I guess," senior second baseman Whitney Knudsen said. "Everyone else was talking about Loudoun Valley and Park View and Broad Run -- they were the ones in the rankings -- so we had nothing to lose. We knew we could play ball, but maybe it was good for us to go out there every game having everything to prove."
Added senior third baseman Taryn Kirk, "It only made the wins that much sweeter."
Tied at 4 with Broad Run headed into the sixth inning, Loudoun County put the game away on a three-run home run by junior first baseman Tara Campbell that bounced off a light post beyond the left field fence.
Campbell's bomb was one of eight hits the Raiders had against Broad Run standout Jenny Clohan (13 strikeouts, 3 walks). In all, the first seven batters in the lineup had at least one hit.
Only Loudoun Valley (193) has scored more runs this season than Loudoun County's 124. Park View and Broad Run have 78 runs each.
"That's the thing with us: Everybody's been contributing," first-year Raiders' Coach Richard Pell said. "From one week to another and even one game to another, it's somebody different who's getting the hits."
Pell also offered praise of junior pitcher Sam Conner, whom he called the area's most underrated pitcher. Conner yielded seven hits to Broad Run, struck out four batters and walked three.
"Sam's just so consistent for us," Pell said. "She's been our workhorse. . . . She's thrown one perfect game and three one-hitters. She's unbelievable, but people haven't really talked much about her. I told her that was just fine with me if she stayed on the back burner for a little while longer. It's worked well so far."
So, too, has Pell's transition into the program. Kirk and Knudsen said that although most of the Raiders have been together since playing on 12-and-under youth league teams, they have quickly adjusted to their new coaching staff of Pell and assistant Jennifer Potts, a standout pitcher at Loudoun Valley and then Longwood University.
"It's been so easy," Kirk said. "We love them, and their intensity."
Said Knudsen: "Their knowledge of the game is so very reassuring."
That trust, Pell said, that has meant so much as Loudoun County moves toward the postseason.
"We've been focusing so much on doing all of the little things right," Pell said. "The talent has always been there. But the players now really believe in what myself and Coach Potts have been teaching them. I think the sky's the limit for this team."