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Nothing tops this pair of aces

Bobby Diez feels fortunate.

He has a luxury most coaches don't. You see, his Chamberlain squad possesses not one pitching ace, but two. And no matter the situation or whom the Chiefs face, Diez can give the ball to either one.

"Believe me," Diez said. "That's nice."

Behind Kelly Confer and Heather VanLandingham, both right-handed seniors, the Chiefs (4-0), ranked No. 1 in Class 5A, have two of the region's top starters and arguably their best one-two combo. Both are returning all-county players, both will play in college (Confer has signed with Michigan State; VanLandingham will play for the University of Tampa) and both have been difficult to solve.

"Our teammates complain they don't ever get any balls," VanLandingham said, laughing. "They say we pitch boring games."

But they usually win.

Behind the two, Chamberlain went 27-4 last spring, was nationally ranked most of the season and came within an eyelash of playing for the state title.

VanLandingham, a two-year starter who transferred from Bloomingdale before her junior season, lost a 1-0, 10-inning decision to Palm Harbor University in the 2005 state semifinals, but finished 11-2 with a 0.53 ERA and 87 strikeouts. Confer, a four-year starter who after a minor injury played - and excelled - at third base during the postseason, has been equally effective on the mound.

As pitchers, they are very similar. Both are capable of throwing fastballs in the 65-mph range, but each prefers deception over firepower because, as VanLandingham put it, hitters are "always going to catch up to you no matter how fast you are."

Confer's preferences, in order, are the curve, knuckleball and screwball. "The curve is really a hard pitch to hit," she said. VanLandingham likes the curve first, too, followed by the changeup and screwball. She's effective with each.

"They both throw strikes," Diez said. "They're always going to keep you in games."

Both players pride themselves on their competitiveness. Each wants the ball in her hands, but both understand the value of having the other around. The truth is, they complement each other well.

"It's definitely better this way," VanLandingham said. "When she got hurt last year, I had to pitch all those innings and it was hard. We both want to pitch, but we've learned how to work with each other and support each other."

So, who's better?

"We're probably both equal," Confer said. "One's not better than the other."

In this case, that's a good thing.

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at 226-3350 or niebuhr@sptimes.com.

A PAIR OF ACES

KELLY CONFER HEATHER VANLANDINGHAM

Year Senior Senior

Positions RHP/3B RHP/DH

College Michigan State Tampa

Favorite Movie A League of Their Own The Wedding Crashers

Favorite Music Hip-hop Everything

Favorite TV Show Laguna Beach American Idol

Pregame Meal Fruit or salad Subway sub

Good-luck Charm MSU green & white bands Kiss from boyfriend

- TIMES STAFF

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