With only one competitive game left for Capital District softball leader Atlee, Monday night’s battle between Lee-Davis and Hanover was for second place, a week’s worth of bragging rights, and positioning for post-season.
Hanover would claim that honor with a 2-0 win over the Confederates.
Hanover was in search of a new winning streak, their eight-game run snapped Friday at Patrick Henry, 2-0. Lee-Davis came to Hanover sky-high after handing defending State Group AAA champion Cosby their first loss of 2013 last Thursday, routing the Titans 8-2. Add Kiandra Mitchum and Lauren McIntyre as your starting pitchers, and the stage was set for an instant classic.
McIntyre was the stronger pitcher out of the gate, while Mitchum hit Kinsee Stonebreaker with a pitch in the first at-bat of the game. She would settle down, and as the middle innings began, both teams would get base runners, but not the hit necessary to drive them home.
Defense was a main reason the game remained scoreless through five innings. Hanover shortstop Hailey Gilbert’s first inning backhand stop and deep throw to first for the out on McIntyre was accomplished while making sure she held Stonebreaker at third base where she had advanced. Haleigh Cottrell grounded out to Lacey Sullivan at third, and Stonebreaker was stranded. Gilbert, in turn, would make it to third in the third inning, and also be stranded.
In the fourth with McIntyre at second, Amy Wingfield hit a grounder. McIntyre reacted by heading for third and being caught in a rundown. She had the presence of mind to keep the play going so Wingfield could race around first and get to second base safely. Kylie Stonebreaker then launched a shot into deep left where the heart and soul of Hanover, Shannon Albright, was there to make the catch and end the threat. After some defensive struggles in left field in their Patrick Henry loss, Hanover coach Brian Letourneau sent Albright to man left field in this important showdown, at minimum the fourth position she has played this year.
“Not only does it take a certain ability to do what Shannon does, it takes a certain attitude,” Letourneau said. “She’s a team player with the ability to play lots of positions, but also has that attitude of, ‘If that’s what we need, she’s gonna do it.’ That’s what you hope for.”
Albright just missed a home run in the fourth, flying out deep to Becca Fields in center field. Victoria Houff singled to start the Lee-Davis fifth but only got as far as second base. The sixth inning began scoreless.
As it started, it was clear a paradigm shift had occurred. Mitchum seemed to be getting stronger and faster with her pitches, while the Hanover batters were starting to make regular contact with pitches from McIntyre. The dividends finally came in the bottom of the sixth as Maura Long singled and was replaced for courtesy runner Erin Watkins. Albright doubled to the gap in right center getting runners at second and third. After a Kaylyn Shepherd infield pop out, with two down, Jessica McLaughlin approached the plate. She found a pitch much to her liking, sending it deep to the right center field wall. The diving catch attempt by Becca Hicks was just short. Watkins and Albright scored while McLaughlin slid in safely at third for a two-run triple.
To add security on defense, McLaughlin robbed Lee-Davis of a seventh inning extra base hit and rally opportunity, running down a Becca Fields fly ball in the right field corner, having to reach around to the opposite side of her body to make the catch. It was shades of Willie Mays for the star of the game, who was pleased to play that role.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you how I caught that ball,” McLaughlin said with a huge smile.
Reflecting on the two-run triple, as she approached the plate, she had a message for herself.
“It’s my time, my time to hit. It’s our game now,” McLaughlin noted. And so it was.
The Hawks’ win left them 8-2 in the Capital, 11-4 overall, while Lee-Davis dropped to 7-3 in the district, 13-4 overall.
Hanover must now win on Senior Night Thursday against Varina and hope Glen Allen can upset Atlee at their Senior Night to force a tie for the district crown. If Atlee wins Thursday, the Raiders would have the top seed in next week’s tournament, which begins Tuesday at Glen Allen High School.