The best kept secret in Trumbull County isn't the Hartford Apple Festival, Fairview Cemetery or the "Center of the World."
It's the LaBrae softball team.
Champion, Mathews, Newton Falls and Poland have been perennial diamond queens of the area, but the Vikings want to be part of the conversation. And for the first time in nearly a decade, LaBrae is the talk of the town.
"I think they know that we're something to watch out for," senior Jessica Buck said, pointing out wins over the Golden Flashes and Tigers. "We've had to prove that to ourselves, too. Advancing to districts just gave us a boost to prove that we really are a good team and a good program.
"This season shows that we really could do it after not being so great recently."
A 10-13 record in 2012 succeeded six years of sub-500 play. Now, the Vikings are on a thrilling run through today's district semifinal against Gilmour Academy.
LaBrae has a secret of its own.
"It has to be our offense, definitely," Buck said. "We've always struggled to hit for the past three years. Even people who were struggling last year have found their swing."
Buck is second on the team with a .373 average and Somer McCoy leads the team at .429. Kasey Rininger boasts a .364, Emily Dugan sits at .333 and Danielle Miracle sports a .302. At one time this season, the Vikings were hitting .352 as a team.
"You can't really ask for better than that," Buck said.
The Vikings (15-7) average seven runs a game and give up just three. Dugan, a sophomore pitcher, has a 2.29 earned run average. An 11-0 start to the season helped build confidence and motivation early.
"It was just awesome," Dugan said. "It's exactly what we needed to start off, and when we faltered a bit after prom, we just went back to believing in ourselves like we did at the beginning."
Coach Demetra Noble helps provide that spark. A self-proclaimed ''sports nut," the 1989 LaBrae grad isn't shy with her spirit.
"Anything is possible," she said. "The hype has been pretty great and the girls are really feeding into it."
After playing a game against Howland on Monday, the Vikings have taken a few days off to "just chill," Noble said.
That's not easy for her to do. During the summer, she's coached the Valley Sting and Ohio Outlaws. Noble is on a traveling softball team herself, with regular weekend tournaments in Cleveland, Youngstown, Pittsburgh, even Florida.
The energy comes from her mother, Mary Hartman. Even in her 70s, Hartman still coaches area youth softball.
"I guess I just come from good genes," Noble, a former basketball coach, said.
A military veteran, too, Noble doesn't recall much from her prep playing days.
"We had a really good freshman pitcher who did well in my last two years," she says, "but we weren't too hot."
She's happy for a second chance and proud of the near future for her girls.
"This is an exciting time for us," Noble said. "I think we match up right with Gilmour, who upset Wickliffe, so I expect a great game."
And just like a delectable vanilla milkshake, chilli-cheese fries and encouraging message you always expect to find at the county-staple Hot Dog Shoppe, LaBrae softball success can be carried on today and maintained for years to come.