This was about as big as Opening Day can get.
On adjacent fields Thursday in Chesterfield, the Hanover Hawks softball team opened the 2013 season against Cosby, the defending State Group AAA Champions, and a team the Hawks defeated last year, while the Hanover baseball team battled the Titans in a matchup of, arguably, the top-two preseason teams in the Central Region.
While Hanover’s baseball team would go on to topple the Titans 11-8, the Hawks’ softball team wouldn’t be so lucky.
Kiandra Mitchum started in the circle for Hanover softball, matching up against Cosby post-season hero and Virginia Tech commit Chelsea Whitcomb. Mitchum would give the Hawks the early advantage, leading off the game with a double to the center field wall. After a Maura Long sacrifice bunt, Mitchum scored on a wild pitch, and Hanover led 1-0.
Cosby answered in the bottom of the second when Kirsten Copley singled to right, scoring Savanna Olds who led the inning off with a single, tying the game at 1-1. The Hawks responded with a run to start the third, as Eryn King singled, Mitchum sacrificed her to second, and, with two out, Shannon Albright singled to right to plate King. It was 2-1, and the game of “punch, counter-punch” was in full force.
“I was really proud of how our girls fought,” Hanover head coach Brian LeTourneau said. “What I really liked about our girls was that every time Cosby responded, so did we.”
The Titans would take the lead with two runs in the third, only to watch Hanover battle back for a run in the top of the fourth to tie the game at 3-3. Jessica McLaughlin, who had a stellar game defensively in right field, walked to start the frame, then scored on a double by Lacey Sullivan. Cosby left two runners on base in each of the first four innings, showing Hanover’s defense was holding its weight, keeping Cosby from breaking the game open.
Albright replaced Mitchum on the mound to start the fifth, as LeTourneau planned to have both of his ace pitchers see playing time during the game. Each team put runners on base, but couldn’t score, with the best chance coming in the bottom of the seventh. The Titans had runners on second and third with two out when, inexplicably, Olds left third base for home thinking Albright had thrown a wild pitch. Long, the veteran catcher, had the ball, and couldn’t believe what was unfolding in front of her.
“[The ball] was off the glove, but it was there. I turned and I’m shocked. I don’t know how she [Olds] didn’t turn back, but I thought ‘Holy cow, she’s right there,’” Long said. “It was exciting.”
Hanover began the extra frame with a single from new first baseman Kaylyn Shepherd. McLaughlin’s bunt attempt failed, forcing Shepherd at second, but McLaughlin got on base, then advanced to second on a wild pitch. A Sullivan grounder to first advanced McLaughlin to third, but Whitcomb induced Haley Gilbert to pop up to Olds at third for the final out, stranding her.
Then, in a scene eerily similar to the State Championship last June when a walk-off single gave Cosby the crown, 3-2 in 10 innings over Patrick Henry, the Titans began with a double to center from Copley, who was replaced for designated runner Ariel Cooke. Cooke advanced to third, and, with two out, Albright had a chance to end the threat. But Whitcomb drew a walk, setting up the final play. Alex Beyer hit a sharp grounder to third, which Sullivan had trouble with. Her throw to first was a half-step late, Cooke had scored, and the Titans again were celebrating a victory.
Whitcomb struck out nine in the victory, allowing six hits, while the Titans accounted for 14 hits, but left 11 runners stranded.
“There’s always going to be people more talented than you, but that’s no excuse not to work harder. This is a building block,” Long stated with confidence.
“We have five new starters out there, we gave ourselves a chance to get out of the eighth inning,” LeTourneau added. “I’m proud of the way we competed. We’ve just got to work on the execution.”
The Hawks’ Monday home opener versus Dinwiddie was washed out due to rain, meaning they began their home season Wednesday (after presstime) in a non-district tilt against Hermitage.
Just a few hundred feet away, it took awhile for the Hawks baseball team to warm up the bats, but when they did, they were set ablaze. A three-run fourth was followed by a two-run fifth, then a six-run sixth, as Hanover outslugged Cosby 11-8.
Keith Searles, returning to his normal catching duties after a knee injury last year forced him to play strictly on offense for much of the season, cranked out three hits, including two doubles, and guided a quartet of Hawks’ pitchers to keep the Cosby bats just enough at bay. The final hurler was freshman Hayden Moore, who entered with two on and two out in the final frame. A Trevor Denton error at third loaded the bases, but Moore got the next batter to pop up sky high near third. Denton made up for his earlier mistake by catching the ball to end the game in spite of slipping and falling on the infield grass while the ball was still airborne. He caught it literally lying on his back, leaving the tying runs stranded.
Most March prognosticators had Cosby as the number one team in the Central Region to start 2013, with Hanover not far behind. Though the Hawks would rather get a victory like this in late May rather than to start the season, they do begin the year on a high note. The Hawks continued a three-game road trip at Dinwiddie Wednesday before readying to battle county and Capital District rival Atlee next Tuesday.