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Getting outs with a smile

Neshaminy's Lauren Quense enjoys her work as she dominates opponents.

Before another dominant pitching performance Friday against Bensalem, Neshaminy junior Lauren Quense kicked away at the dirt inside the circle.

She stomped, swept, and scraped until the area felt right, until she could plant her right foot in the dirt, launch her left foot off the rubber, and unleash her blazing fastball.

But still, she was not quite ready to warm up. Something was off, and everything must be in order for her to enter her pitching zone.

Third baseman Julia McGovern walked to the mound and added the final touch: She fastened a large, pink bow to Quense's blond ponytail.

"I like to wear the same bow," Quense explained later about her pitching routine. "And I do the same makeup."

Though tall and powerfully built, the cheery Quense doesn't exactly fit her top-notch profile: intimidating ace fireballer, bound for Division I softball at Fordham, leader of the 2011 Class AAAA state runner-up with championship aspirations again this season.

"You never see her not smiling," coach Dave Chichilitti said.

The joy first surfaced when she served as the 3-year-old bat girl for her father's softball team in the Neshaminy Little League.

"This is my sport," she realized.

For two years at the varsity level, Quense has worn a smile while mowing down helpless hitter after helpless hitter. Her career numbers: 23-4 record, 173 innings pitched, 1.09 ERA, and 238 strikeouts to 24 walks.

She wears teal eye shadow for every game and high-fives her infielders after every out. "Hey, 'Q,' come on, 'Q,' " they shout.

She also possesses such a violent delivery that her head snaps back and her tongue pops out when she releases the ball.

It begins with an upright stance, with only her left knee bent and the toes of her left foot jammed into the ground. She rocks back before bending at the waist to a near 90-degree angle, bowing to the catcher, then springs forward and whips her arm toward the plate.

Her fastballs reach 65 m.p.h., accompanied by a grunt usually heard from professional tennis players.

The delivery was pieced together over the last two years, after a freshman season spent on the junior-varsity team. Quense noticed college pitchers bending over and rocking back and thought, "Oh, I like that."

"It just kind of stuck," she said Friday, "because I was getting results. I was throwing harder, getting balls to move."

Behind the makeup is one of the hardest-working athletes Chichilitti has ever met. When she's not starring for Neshaminy, Quense is receiving private pitching and hitting instruction, or practicing with the travel team she joined when she was 8, or working on strength and conditioning.

The first time Quense wowed Chichilitti, he was watching from the opposing dugout. Then Bristol's JV coach, Chichilitti watched the freshman Quense and thought: "Are you kidding me? This kid's a varsity player - what's she doing pitching in a JV game?"

"She was by far the best pitcher I've ever seen," he said.

Now, he says, "there's a 'wow' moment every day with her."

Many of them come when Quense fields grounders at third base, her old position, where she regularly makes diving plays in practice. Others come when she's at the plate, where she is hitting .547 with 17 RBIs, a year after finishing at .506 with 27 RBIs.

Asked what Quense needs to improve, Chichilitti paused.

"There's not much," he said, eventually coming up with something: "In some situations, it might be a little bit better to take a walk."

Quense said she works with pitching coach Roy Jenderko on sharpening the movement of her pitches. Against Bensalem, she showcased the devastating change-up she recently developed, piling up 15 strikeouts in seven two-hit innings.

After completing her 12th game of the season, she slapped her right hand against her glove and strolled into the dugout, where a brown bag of candy awaited each Redskins player.

Quense grabbed the bag labeled with her No. 3 on one side. "Kill the Owls," the other side read.

"When they're down," the smiling 17-year-old said of her pitching mentality, "push 'em down."