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They will be remembered for many accomplishments, from the team’s first district title in four years to a 10-game winning streak on the way to 18 victories.
But as the Atlee Raiders softball team walked away from Great Bridge High School Tuesday evening, they reflected on the above, and also the disappointment of losing three of their final four games, and falling short of raising a championship banner.
The Wildcats broke open a pitcher’s duel with two runs in the sixth, then kept the Raiders from scoring with the bases loaded in the seventh en route to a 2-0 victory under perfect conditions in Chesapeake. Sophomore pitcher Sydney Harless barely outdueled Raider ace Jessica Holte in Holte’s final appearance in a Raider uniform, using a variety of pitches and locations to induce Atlee into a large number of pop flies, especially in the middle innings.
“We needed to make adjustments at the plate and we told them ‘back off the plate a little bit,’” Atlee head coach John Earley said. “Some did and made decent contact, the ones who didn’t were getting jammed inside and just catching the ball off the bat handle.”
Both teams used double plays defensively to get out of threats in the second inning, then, in the fifth, Mattie Fitzgerald opened with a single, and Raine Wilson reached base on an error. But Harless retired Delani Ferrar on a foulout to first, Annamarie Warley on a popout to second, and Blair Jones with a popout to Harless to strand the runners.
After Atlee went down in order in the top of the sixth, the Wildcats looked as if they would do the same, as Holte fanned leadoff hitter Olivia Smith on three pitches. But after getting two quick strikes on Marlowe Paulk, Holte walked her. Shortstop Chloe Carr followed with a single. After Holte fanned catcher Sydney Rupe, Delaney Ambrose stepped up, hitting a blooper into short right field.
Fitzgerald, still nursing a broken cheekbone suffered 11 days earlier, dove forward for the ball but fell just short of the catch, allowing Paulk and Carr to score. Suddenly, the Raiders were down two runs, and down to their final three outs.
Holte responded with a single to left to begin the seventh. Fitzgerald reached on a fielders choice, as courtesy runner Malorie Fodill was forced out at second. Wilson blasted a liner down the third base line which Ambrose swallowed up for the second out.
Then the Wildcats showed the jitters of being an out away from a state semifinal. Ferrar grounded to Ambrose, who threw low to first, and both Raiders were safe. Warley grounded to Carr at short, who errored on her throw to get the force out at third, and the bases were loaded for Blair Jones.
“We told them you’ve got to put [the ball] in play and see if they can make plays, and they weren’t doing it,” Earley noted.
Jones, who hit very well in the Central Region tournament, battled Harless until the final strike, going down swinging to leave three teammates on base, and ending the season.
Holte struck out five, but was touched for seven hits by the Wildcats, who improve to 23-3 and will face Orange County Friday in the state semis. The Raiders finish at 18-4, but 1-3 down the final stretch, scoring just three runs in the three defeats. But the end does not negate the huge accomplishments of a team with only two seniors, Holte, and shortstop Taylor Sutherland, and Earley made sure his team knew it.
“Coach [Becky] Levy and I both told them after the game, ‘we wouldn’t want to be here with any other group of girls,’” Earley said. “They did what they needed to do. They made us proud.”