It always looks serious when Loudoun Valley junior Malorie Weller asks the umpire behind her for a time out, then lifts off her catcher's mask and trots out to the pitching circle to chat with junior Cassie McGaha.
That is, until the inevitable smile breaks across McGaha's face.
Turns out the two often aren't discussing pitches or placement or even the upcoming batter. Instead, Weller frequently is trying to lighten the mood with a joke -- her favorite lines come from the movie "White Chicks" -- or a playful poke at someone either in the stands or in the opposing dugout.
She did so twice in Monday's 4-0 victory over Fort Defiance in a Virginia AA Region II quarterfinal victory that advanced the Vikings to yesterday's semifinal round at Monticello. A win at Monticello (19-1) would assure Loudoun Valley (22-1) of a third straight berth in the state playoffs. (Yesterday's game ended too late to be included in today's Loudoun Extra. Please see today's sports section for complete results.)
"If I'm out there not throwing well or whatever, she'll come out and joke around, and it just relaxes me," said McGaha, who yielded four hits Monday in her 15th shutout of the season. "I definitely like having her behind the plate."
That wasn't initially the case. Weller, the Vikings' starting first baseman a year ago, is left-handed -- something that posed a bit of concern for McGaha early on.
"At the beginning of the season it made me nervous because visually it's very different to see the glove coming from the opposite direction," she said. "I was afraid I was going to throw it the wrong way or something."
It didn't take either player long to settle in.
"I knew Malorie would be great back there because she's been catching for me forever," said Vikings Coach Joe Spicer, who first put Weller behind the plate while coaching her 10-year-old little league team. "She could have caught last year, too. She was certainly more than capable. It was just that our best lineup put her at first base. But so when that position opened up this year, she took it and solidified it.
"She's one of the smartest players we have, and she's more than steady. She finds a way to make something happen when we need it."
Weller has picked five runners off first base and has thrown out three of five runners who have attempted to steal second against her.
"People stopped trying to run on her pretty quick," Spicer said. "Her arm isn't the strongest in the league, but she very well may have the fastest release."
On offense, Weller has developed into one of the team's most productive players. She bats last in the Vikings' lineup but is hitting .556 on the season and .625 in Loudoun Valley's first three playoff games. Those are not typical numbers for a No. 9 hitter, but then Weller isn't exactly a No. 9 batter, either.
"I asked Spicer to put me last because I just feel comfortable there," Weller said. "With the kind of batters we have at the top of the lineup I felt like we needed some power at the bottom of the lineup, too. I have confidence every time up that I'm going to get on base."
Many times she has. Weller has scored 27 runs this season, fourth-highest on the team.
"She's probably more like a number five hitter, but she asked to be put last, and sure enough as soon as I got her there she started hitting," Spicer said. "Who am I to mess with that kind of success?"