In this postseason, Patrick Henry softball has had both the look and feel of a state championship contender. As a result, they get the opportunity to play for one.
The Patriots, after clinching a State 5A Semifinal berth by defeating Stone Bridge 12-0 in the 5A North Semifinals, traveled to Ashburn and knocked off Conference 14 champion Briar Woods 6-2 to claim the 5A North Region title. The win improved Patrick Henry to 18-1 on the season, and two wins away from becoming the final county high school to win its first State Softball Championship.
Strong pitching from Candace Whittemore led the Patriots through two tough region matchups.
Pitcher Candace Whittemore, after baffling Stone Bridge in the semis, battled through her biggest adversity of the playoffs thus far for the win. Patrick Henry scored a run in the top of the first, but Briar Woods struck back with one of their own for a 1-1 tie after an inning. It was the first counterpunch put on the Patriots, but they answered in a hurry, scoring three more runs in the top of the second for a 4-1 advantage.
The matchup then settled down quickly into a pitching duel through the middle innings. Whittemore finished with nine strikeouts, after having 11 in the Stone Bridge victory. Her battery-mate, catcher Ashley Samuels, is dead-on in her analysis of Whittemore’s performances as May turned into June.
“Candace definitely had tough hitters with Briar Woods, but she did a great job controlling them through her pitching,” Samuels explained. “I have noticed an increase in her determination and enthusiasm as the postseason has progressed.”
Samuels, a veteran of the 2012 Patriots run to the State Championship Final, noted the team had no level of comfort until the top of the seventh, when number nine hitter Briana Woody launched a two-run single up the middle to up the Patrick Henry lead to 6-1.
“That was the biggest play of the game; it really sealed the deal for our offense and put our defense in a good position with the 7-8-9 hitters due up for them,” Samuels said.
Briar Woods managed one run in the seventh, but Woody’s hit made it so that it was still a four-run deficit rather than just two, with the tying run at the plate. Whittemore and the defense did the rest.
Patrick Henry now faces 5A South runner-up Great Bridge Friday at 7 p.m. at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke. A victory in that game places the Patriots in Saturday’s 5A State Championship against the winner of Prince George/Briar Woods. The 2 p.m. title game is at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax.
This year’s squad has already done something the 2012 team did not: win a Region Championship. In the former Group AAA format, Cosby not only beat Patrick Henry for the State title two years ago in a 3-2, 10-inning thriller, they knocked off the Patriots in the old Central Region title game.
So, if you go to Burke Friday and the Patriots do win, expect no celebrations. A group of young ladies completely bought in with the concept of “team first” will be happy, but will continue to respond as a group squarely on a mission: that their first on-field celebration take place when they earn State Championship rings.