As the caravan of Hanover County softball fans made their way south down I-295 to Prince George, hopes were high. Hanoverians were guaranteed one team in the Central Region Softball Finals, and thus, the 2012 State Group AAA Tournament. Fans hoped two would make the championship round.
In the first semifinal at Prince George High School, as expected, a pitcher's duel ensued between Patrick Henry senior Emma Mitchell and the hottest pitcher in the region the past two weeks, Atlee junior Jessica Holte.
The Raiders came close to scoring off Mitchell in the first inning, getting runners to second and third before Shelby Hill popped out to Mitchell on the mound, ending the threat. The Patriots went in order in each of the first 3 innings, finally get a base runner in the fourth on an error by Blair Jones on an Allison Tingler grounder to second. She was stranded there. Atlee again put two aboard, this time in the fifth, but Cameron Hall grounded into a force out, then Taylor Sutherland grounded out to second to end the threat.
Mackenzie Keyes led off the Atlee sixth with a single, then went to second on a Mattie Fitzgerald sacrifice bunt. But Mitchell struck out Hill, then induced Holte to fly out to left, and, again, a runner in scoring position was stranded.
Patrick Henry had a tough time getting hits off Holte (she only allowed two), but the second proved to start the game-winning rally in the bottom of sixth, when Ellen Davidson shot one up the middle, and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Paige Mitchell. After a Tingler walk, Sam Moore was hit by a pitch, which some observers believed hit the bottom of the bat rather than her arm/hand. After an umpire conference, she was awarded first base, loading the bases.
Katie Woody stepped to the plate and hit a fly ball to mid-center field. Davidson tagged and scurried home, beating the Shelby Hill throw, and the Patriots were up 1-0. Madison Gilman lined out to short and the Patriots left two aboard.
Atlee's last chance in the seventh went quickly, as Delani Farrar popped out to Moore at third, then Emma Mitchell struck out both Lexi Cumbia and Blair Jones to finish the victory. Mitchell finished with seven strikeouts, one walk, and allowed three hits, all singles. Jessica Holte was equally strong, striking out four, walking one, while giving up only two singles.
Atlee finishes 2012 with an 18-6 record and, while they will sorely miss Keyes and Cumbia as they graduate, they will return an impressive seven of nine starters in 2013, including Holte.
Patrick Henry moves to 21-1 and will face Cosby in the Central Region Championship Friday at 5pm at Prince George High School. The game was moved up from a 7pm start due to the threat of severe weather in the region Friday evening.
In the nightcap, the Confederate faithful sat on the first base side, replacing the Atlee faithful, hoping for a return to the state tournament won by Lee-Davis one year previous.
Both teams went scoreless through the first four innings, though each time had a runner on base in each 1/2 inning except the Cosby 4th. Lee-Davis left one runner on base in each of the first three innings, and two in scoring position in the fourth, when Ryleigh Hawker doubled, then Amy Wingfield singled. Kinsee Stonebreaker, pinch running for Wingfield, stole second, but Taylor Deemer flied out to center and Ashley Berry struck out to end the Confederates' threat.
Lee-Davis again put runners at 2nd and 3rd, this time with nobody out in the fifth. Cosby starter Chelsea Whitcomb then struck out Lacie Madison, got Casey Price to line out to third on a hard hit ball, and Haleigh Cottrell to line out to right to, again, end the threat.
Cosby would strike first, in the bottom of the fifth, when Lee-Davis ace Lauren McIntyre walked Sam Quinn with one out, bringing up lead-off hitter Meagan Jones, who had already singled twice. She roped a shot over the head of Price in center field for triple, and Quinn scored. Next, a suicide squeeze attempt by Ellen Sweat worked as the toss from McIntyre to Cottrell at the plate was mishandled, and Jones scored to make it 2-0.
The Confederates, though, bounced back in the top of the 6th, as Wingfield doubled to center with one out. Taylor Deemer singled to right, and the throw from Cosby's Karie Burgess went to the back stop, allowing Wingfield to slide head first home for the run. Deemer smartly advanced to third during the brief chaos behind the plate, but was stranded there when Berry's bunt attempt failed and Becca Fields grounded out.
Cosby picked up an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs, Burgess walked, then Bridgett Blakeley roped a double to left-center, scoring Burgess for the 3-1 lead.
The Confederates went down in order in the 7th, and although they out hit the Titans 9-6, the runs on the scoreboard mattered the most.
McIntyre threw 71 pitches over six innings, striking out one, while walking two. Unfortunately for Lee-Davis fans, both of those walks turned into runs.
The Confederates fall a game short of returning to the State Tournament, finishing the season 19-5. Head Coach Jackie Davis, clearly emotional after the game, noted the monumental contributions of this senior class while acknowledging a good nucleus returning for 2013.
Though they fell a game short of returning to the state stage, the Lee-Davis softball class of 2012 can always hold their heads high, knowing they were part of making history in 2011, and, overcoming many obstacles to again make noise in 2012.
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