Former Liberty standout Rhett Teller would have never believed the key to improving his hitting for the Herndon Braves in the Clark Griffith wood-bat league this summer would have sent him back nearly 15 years.
"The top hitter in the league, Brandon Bowser, is also my teammate, and he has this certain hitting drill that we've being doing since about halfway through the season," Teller said. "Basically, his dad built a tee, and we hit off that. It's supposed to make your swing more level. And it's working."
So, too, is Teller's transition to a slightly longer, lighter bat. Last summer, his first in a wood-bat league, Teller hit .280. He started the first 10 games of this season with a .174 average for Herndon, currently battling the Bethesda Big Train in a best-of-five series for the Clark Griffith league championship.
But after switching bats -- and starting his new drill -- Teller went on a 27-game hit streak that propelled him into seventh place among all league hitters at .315. He had hit in nine straight entering Tuesday.
Bowser (James Madison) sits atop the league with a .361 average, and Herndon's Braxton Good (VMI) ranks sixth at .318.
"Working that drill has made a big difference for all of us," said Teller, who has a full scholarship to play for Saint Leo's (Fla.) University next season. "I know I'm hitting the ball much better now and am feeling much more confident."
Teller batted .500 with 15 home runs and 56 RBI last spring at Frederick Community College and was a junior college all-American.
Mike Dean scooped up a copy of the Cary News, one of the newspapers covering last weekend's PONY East Nationals near Raleigh, N.C., and didn't know whether to smile or cringe at the headline.
It read, "Searching for the best of the best," and was accompanied by a photograph of his Fire and Ice 16-and-under team.
"No pressure there, huh?" Dean said. "It kind of put a monkey on our back from the beginning."
The reason for such publicity was clear: Fire and Ice was the defending champion. But it returned only four players from last year's team and was preparing to play in a highly competitive field of 167 teams.
Fire and Ice did not repeat as champions, but its fifth-place finish was not only the best of any local team but also more than enough to please Dean.
"To only have four girls back who were on last year's national team, I thought we did outstanding," said Dean, whose team finished its summer schedule with a 34-8 mark that included one first-place, one second-place and three third-place tournament finishes. "And it really was a total team effort. We didn't have just one impact player; we had several."
Topping the list were Loudoun Valley pitcher Cassie McGaha and its four returnees -- Ashley Ahearn of Hylton, Randi Dean of Park View, and Tanya Gittings and Mallory Weller of Loudoun Valley -- who set the pace offensively. For the season Gittings (.512) led the team in batting, followed by Ahearn (.510), Dean (.434) and Weller (.396). They hold the top four spots in the team's lineup.
"The star player changed for us every game, and that's always great to see," Dean said. "The coaches couldn't be more pleased. Every game was about playing good defense, hitting the ball hard and, more than anything, playing with desire."
Only Lions Remain
The Greater Loudoun Lions, the designated host team for the 2004 Babe Ruth Baseball 16-year-old World Series, will be the only local team represented at the eight-day event after teams from Fauquier and Greater Loudoun were eliminated from Southeast Region bracket play Sunday.
The World Series tournament will run from Aug. 14 through 21 at Fireman's Field in Purcellville.
"We'll still get seven or eight more practices in before the World Series, but I think we're ready," said Lions Coach Sam Plank, who also heads the team at Stone Bridge. "We won eight of our last nine games and are playing really well right now."
Potomac Falls senior Casey Hartman is scheduled to be on the mound when the Lions open play at 8 p.m. Aug. 14 against the Southeast Region champion.