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The last three years have seen Lee-Davis softball win the Central Region twice and make the state finals twice, winning the 2011 crown. But through it all, the thorn in their side has been their rivals from western Hanover, Patrick Henry, the only team to defeat them in the 2011 championship season.
Given the heavy graduation losses encountered by the Patriots, few believed they could extend their winning streak to three over the Confederates when the teams met in Mechanicsville Friday night. However, a combination of timely defense, superior late-inning pitching, and a power hit from an unlikely source gave Patrick Henry a 3-2 win in eight innings over Lee-Davis.
While stopping short of calling it a signature win for her young team in her first season at the helm, Patrick Henry head coach Shelby Webb understood what could be gained from the victory.
“We’re taking it day by day. We are young, and tonight some of the veterans came through for us,” Webb said. “It’s a big win, one that will keep us hopeful going forward.”
It was a tale of two games, as Lee-Davis (1-1) dominated the first four innings, scoring a run in both the first and fourth innings, both times by Kinsee Stonebreaker. Ryleigh Hawker’s double in the first scored Stonebreaker from second, and she took advantage of two Patriot errors in the fourth inning to score on a walk and a botched pop-up off the bat of Becca Fields. Meanwhile, sophomore Lauren McIntyre was her usual self in the circle, scattering three hits and striking out seven in the first four innings.
But Lee-Davis left seven runners stranded over that time, including leaving the bases loaded in the first, and head coach Jackie Davis pointed to that statistic after the game.
“We let a young team hang around,” Davis noted. “When you have scoring chances, you’ve got to capitalize. We didn’t, and it built their confidence. We’ll use this as a learning experience, how we must have intensity for the entire game. It’s a wake-up call for us.”
Patriots’ starter Candace Whittemore found another level from the fifth inning forward, retiring the final 13 batters she faced, including strikeouts of Hawker to force extra innings, and Becca Hicks in the eighth to end the game.
“Candace and [catcher] Ashley [Samuels] spent a lot of time in the dugout going over batters and how to face them differently, and Candace got in a groove,” Webb said.
Meanwhile, the Patriot bats went to work, as speedy Briana Woody beat out a grounder for an infield single with two out in the fifth, advanced to second on a Whittemore single, then crossed the plate when Beth Ford slammed a double down the left field line. Kendall Thomas, pinch-running for Whittemore, was given the green light by Webb to score from first, but a perfect relay throw from Fields to shortstop Brooke Martin to catcher Haleigh Cottrell nailed Thomas at the plate for the easy third out.
After leaving two aboard in the sixth, Patrick Henry (3-1) struck in their final at-bat. Ellen Davidson reached base on a Martin error at short, advanced to second on a Woody sacrifice bunt, then to third on a groundout to second by Whittemore. It was up to Ford to keep the game alive. Again, Beth responded with a single into left, and Davidson scored. A Paige Mitchell single and second Martin error on a grounder by Samuels loaded the bases, but Hunter Glave lined out to Hawker at third to keep the game tied.
The top of the eighth began benignly, with two quick outs, bringing up Davidson, one of only two seniors on the Patriots’ roster. Not known for power, Davidson found some, lining the ball into left center, sharp enough that it rolled to the wall. When Davidson looked up at Webb in the coaches box heading for third, she saw the familiar green light to go home.
“I was surprised to see the go sign,” Davidson recalled with a smile. “But during the comeback the team was so hyped in the dugout, so everyone’s energy helped me make it.”
“E,” as she’s affectionately called by her teammates, slid past Cottrell to touch home for what would be the winning run. Whittemore slammed the door in the bottom of the eighth and the Patriots celebrated their third straight win over the Confederates.
McIntyre was gracious in defeat.
“They adjusted to what I was throwing. They knew what they had to do and did it,” McIntyre noted. “I think that game helped show some things I can change and fix. I can always do better.”
Both teams suffered yet more postponements this week due to weather, as Lee-Davis’ non-district game at J.R. Tucker was moved from Monday to Wednesday, while Patrick Henry’s road trip to face Dinwiddie was moved to April 22.