Senators starting to feel like winners


Senators coach Gerald Jester says the win over Laurel on March 24 has given the team high hopes of a winning season after posting losing seasons for the last seven years. (Delaware State News file photo)

Senators coach Gerald Jester says the win over Laurel on March 24 has given the team high hopes of a winning season after posting losing seasons for the last seven years. (Delaware State News file photo)

DOVER — Dover High’s softball players haven’t had many victories — let alone many big victories — to celebrate for a long time.

So when the Senators knocked off Laurel, the state champion in both 2013 and ‘14, on March 24, they were pretty excited.

“No one could stop singing,” said senior Stella Rivas. “The bus ride was loud. Everyone was ready for the next game.”

Dover’s 14-10 win over the Bulldogs was just one game, of course. And Laurel is rebuilding this spring.

Still, the Senators haven’t won more than four games in a season in over seven years. Indeed, they haven’t even owned a non-losing record at any time during that stretch.

Furthermore, nobody at Dover can remember the Senators ever beating Laurel in softball.

So while being 1-1 may only be a small step for some teams, it’s a giant leap for the Senators right now.

“That was a sweet win for them,” said fourth-year coach Gerald Jester. “They’re feeling pretty good about themselves. I mean the program’s been taking steps each year. They felt like they could win.”

Dover lost to the Bulldogs by a combined 26-1 in the three previous meetings.

But if there was a moment in that contest when the Senators proved they’re a different team now, it came when Laurel scored six runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to cut Dover’s lead to only 13-10.

“They didn’t stop playing, they just played harder,” said Jester. “They put Laurel away the last three innings — they shut them out. In the past they would have just stopped when they saw them coming back. They’d have thought it was over. But they don’t have that feeling any more.”

“People say, ‘Oh Dover is nothing,’” said sophomore pitcher Katie Dunlap. “‘We can beat them easily.’ It really surprises them when we come back and we actually fight.”

Jester, whose team hosts Smyrna today at 4:15 p.m., knows one win doesn’t make a season.

Still, after finishing only 3-14 last spring, the Georgetown resident believes there’s a lot of good things going on with the program right now.

Dover has a total of 37 players between varsity and JV — only one of whom are seniors. Jester would also put the school’s brand-new softball facilities up against any school in the state.

Today’s game will be the first official contest played on the new field, which features brick dugouts and bleachers topped with a pressbox. The Senators also have a separate practice field and an indoor facility it shares with baseball that includes batting cages, pitching machines and an artificial playing surface.

“It’s shocking that Dover has actually done this for us,” said Dunlap. “Last year we had to go to a warehouse and that wasn’t fun for anybody. And, if we couldn’t get in there, we had no practice at all. It helps us get more reps.”

“It’s much nicer,” said Rivas. “We want to have wins behind this nice field.

“Our team’s different. It doesn’t matter if they’re underclassmen. They all work as hard as the upperclassmen did last year. We all work for the same goals.”

Jester said there some tangible reasons why the Senators are more competitive now.

His first year at Dover, Jester said none of the players played travel ball. Now there are six or seven.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “The more they play, the better they get.”

“They know the game better,” said Dunlap, who plays travel ball. “I’ve gotten better. And I’m facing the same girls I do in travel ball.”

As far as big team goals, Jester said he’s still keeping them pretty simple.

“Our goal is to hit the ball,” said Jester, whose team had 18 hits against Laurel. “I tell them, if we work hard and get better every day, every practice, every game, the ‘W’s’ will come.

“All I can ask is that they work hard for me every day and I’ve had that for four years. I have no complaints. The thing that probably surprised me the most when I got here is the talent is here. They just don’t have the reps. But they’re gaining, they’re gaining.”

In the meantime, the Senators have discovered that winning is a lot more enjoyable than losing. It does wonders for their confidence, too.

“It feels like, ‘We’ve got this, we can do it,’” said Rivas. “We did it last game so we can do it this game.

“It’s hard losing most of our games. … It’s not fun.”

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