It’s a simple rule, for softball as well as life: finish the job.
When they needed to do so the most, the Patrick Henry Patriots softball team could not, stranding eight runners on base over six innings Saturday, resulting in a season-ending 2-0 loss to defending State Group AAA champion Great Bridge of Chesapeake in the inaugural 5A State Softball Semifinal.
“We got a ton of runners on base, but if you don’t score runs you don’t win ball games,” said a disappointed Shelby Webb, Patrick Henry head coach following the defeat. “We did have a couple of errors in the outfield, but those don’t matter if you don’t put runs on the board.”
Batting against Great Bridge junior Sydney Harless, who outdueled former Atlee standout Jessica Holte in a 2013 state quarterfinal, the Patriots struggled against a power pitcher, something that had not been the case all season. The offense, which scored 42 runs in five previous playoff games, sputtered.
Harless struck out six Patriots, including clean-up hitter Ashley Samuels three times.
Two Great Bridge errors gave Patrick Henry runners at first and second in the opening frame, but a Samuels strikeout and a groundout from Grayson Radcliffe ended the threat. In the second, Kendall Thomas drew a leadoff walk, advancing to second on a wild pitch and to third on a Madison Seay sacrifice bunt. Briana Woody’s bunt single to third made it runners at the corners, but Beth Ford, on a squeeze bunt attempt, popped out to Harless to end that threat.
“I think when we got runners on base, some of the girls got caught up in nerves, trying to be the one to hit it over the fence rather than put it on the ground and getting the runners over,” Webb noted.
Great Bridge plated their runs in the fourth. Cameryn Strother launched a double over the head of Woody, playing a shallow left field. Chloe Carr next launched a fly ball to deep center. Thomas stepped in when she should have started by stepping back towards the fence, and wasn’t in position for the catch. The ball dropping in allowed Strother to score, while Carr advanced to third, later scoring on a single by catcher Sydney Rupe.
Patriots starter Candace Whittemore had another strong outing, striking out nine Wildcats in the defeat, retiring the final 12 batters after the Rupe single in the fourth. Paige Mitchell doubled the fifth, but was stranded there, as was Thomas in the sixth, as she reached on an error, then advanced to second on another Seay sacrifice bunt. But Taylor Prokopis’ groundout to shortstop ended the last scoring opportunity.
Though clearly disheartened by seeing their season come to a close with a record of 18-2, and two wins short of their ultimate goal, there was plenty of optimism coming from Webb, who will have to replace Samuels at catcher and Thomas in center field, as well as courtesy runner Abby Clement, all of whom fought the Interstate 95 traffic from Fairfax down to Richmond after the game in time for Patrick Henry’s 7 p.m. commencement exercises at the Siegel Center.
“All three of them will definitely be missed, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what next year brings. I am expecting big things next year,” Webb said.
With Whittemore back in the circle, Mitchell, Ford, and Radcliffe back in the infield, and the emerging Prokopis with Woody in the outfield, optimism should be high again in Ashland when another spring arrives. This season, though, has been punctuated by attributes, Webb notes, that will serve these young ladies long after they’ve taken off their cleats for the final time.
“Persistence, confidence, and high character. Those are the words I’ve used to describe this team,” Webb opined. “They’re very much ‘we before me’ and they’ve been that way all year long.”