The season is starting to come together for the first-year Loudoun Rangers. After three victories in their first 13 games, the Rangers have won five of eight headed into the second half of the schedule. And that has everyone on the team feeling optimistic about the coming weeks.

"We've definitely been playing a lot better," said first baseman Matt LaFleur (Central Florida). "Our defense has really picked things up, our pitching has been consistent, and the guys are finally starting to make the adjustment to the wooden bats. Plus, we've really just now got all our guys on the roster here. I think things are only going to get better."

That's because even when Loudoun was struggling, it wasn't by much. Of the Rangers' 13 losses, four were by two runs and six were by one. This despite the fact Loudoun committed 41 total team errors in its first 18 games.

"At the start of the season, we were committing two, three, four errors a game," Coach Chris Hart said. "And that was killing us. But in the last two weeks, we've really been cleaning it up. We've also been making improvements offensively, getting on base and getting base hits when we need them."

Third baseman Brandon Reichert (Tallahassee Community College) leads the team with a .305 batting average, 22 hits and 14 RBI.

On the mound, the Rangers are led by Derek Antelo (Florida International) and Jason Kiley (Florida Gulf Coast University), both of whom are 2-0 on the season. Antelo boasts a team-best 1.09 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 24 innings pitched; Kiley holds a 1.54 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 23 innings.

"In a summer league like this, you want each guy to improve as much as they can during that two-month span," Hart said. "But you also have to work as quickly as possible to try to find chemistry and learn how to work together to win. We're starting to get there."

In the Pink

The Shamrocks 16-and-under softball team usually prepares for its games with a huddle and a simple chant of "1-2-3 Shamrocks!" Last weekend at the Hall of Fame tournament in Oklahoma City, the girls put a new spin on their old chant, starting each game with a yell of "1-2-3 Think Pink!"

Their motivation was simple: Coach Jim Brackin had promised that if the team delivered victory in the 24-team national qualifier, he'd let them die his hair flamingo pink.

"We were walking through the Hall of Fame before the tournament started, and I just started telling the girls how much it would mean to me to win this tournament," said Brackin, who was inducted into the Amateur Softball Association Hall of Fame in 1996 as a player. "So I even told them they could use permanent hair color. That was my big mistake."

The Shamrocks not only won the event, they went undefeated in five games. Trailing the Oklahoma Jammers by one run in the first inning of the championship game, catcher Kelly Haller, a junior at Heritage, blasted a two-run home run over the left field fence to spark a 5-1 victory.

"It was a bomb," Brackin said of Haller's hit. "She's just incredibly focused out there. When the game is on the line, there's no one I'd rather have coming up than her. I knew right then it was over."

The Shamrocks, who Brackin said took much pleasure in watching him parade around the Oklahoma airport with his freshly-colored hair, leave Tuesday to embark on an eight-day, seven-game exhibition tour in Japan.

'A Good Start'

Potomac Falls boys' basketball coach Jeff Hawes knows summer play isn't exactly indicative of how the upcoming season with go.

But when the Panthers' won the Canfield Camp championship last weekend in Charlottesville, he couldn't help but feel excited.

The Panthers went 10-1 at the camp, defeating King George, 66-60, in the title game after previously falling to the Foxes in double overtime.

Potomac Falls also registered wins over teams from Courtland, Luray, Nelson County and Park View.

"It's not only who we beat, but how well we played," Hawes said. "And I know that winning that camp doesn't win us any games for next season. But it's a good start anyway."

Senior Brandon Jackson was named the camp's top defensive player.

Loudoun Rangers pitcher Jason Kiley (1.54 ERA, 23 strikeouts in 23 innings) delivers against the Luray Wranglers.Loudoun Rangers' Kevin Richmond slides past Wranglers third baseman Daniel Murphy for a triple. Loudoun has won five of its last eight games.