For Hanover softball, the past two seasons could be termed a “frustrating success.” Each season ended with a winning record, but one step short of a region tournament.
The promise of 2014 was eight returning starters, a pitching ace, lots of offense, and a new playoff system that seemed to provide an easier path to regionals. It almost didn’t happen. But finally, the Hawks Class of 2014, along with their underclassmen teammates, got to hoist a trophy in the first-ever Conference 20 Tournament.
After storming back from a late 6-0 deficit to defeat Dinwiddie in the Conference Semifinals in extra innings to clinch a 4A South Region berth, Hanover made sure the Conference trophy would come to Hawk Nation, ousting rival Glen Allen by a surprising 14-0 score in five innings in Friday’s championship game.
With the Dinwiddie game behind them and a region berth sealed, the Hawks came out with all guns blazing. Nervous, urgent energy was replaced.
“I think we came out more relaxed and focused tonight,” explained senior Hanover catcher Maura Long, comparing the two nights and explaining the easy victory. “Focus was the name of this game. We had momentum and we rode it.”
After Glen Allen stranded two runners in the top of the first, the Hawks took off. Kiandra Mitchum singled, was sacrificed to second by Long. After a Kaylyn Shepherd walk, Haley Gilbert doubled to left, scoring the first run. Erin Acors singled next, scoring Shepherd.
That was enough to make Glen Allen change pitchers very early, pulling usual starter Brianna Tarzia for Julia Fritz. That’s when the Jaguar defense fell apart, committing errors on plays from the next two batters. With two outs, Mackenzie Wyatt and Mitchum each had RBI singles, and the Hawks led 6-0.
Hanover added another run in the second despite leaving the bases loaded. After the Jaguars stranded two more runners in the top of the third, the Hawks put the game on ice as Shepherd drove in two runs with a single, Eryn King drove Shepherd home on a bases loaded single, and Erin Watkins doubled to score Gilbert and Acors. It was 12-0.
“We’ve been working a lot more on our offense lately,” King stated. “We feel our defense is pretty solid.”
The Hawks had no errors on the night, while Glen Allen committed six.
The victory gave this team what they’ve craved for three seasons: the trophy shot. Hoisting the Conference crown high in the air, they were confident as to what the 4A South Regionals would bring.
But on Monday night, the Hawks allowed one too many opportunities to pass them by. Though mounting two, one-run comebacks, one in the eighth inning to keep their dreams alive, Conference 19 runner-up Grafton pushed a run across in the top of the ninth to win the 4A South Region Quarterfinal 3-2, ending the Hawks’ season.
It looked as if Hanover would come back once more, loading the bases in the bottom of the ninth with only one out. Grafton, though, retired the final two hitters, the last coming when Lacey Sullivan’s shot down the third base line was gloved, allowed the third baseman to step on third for the force out, and the end.
Hanover ends with a 14-3 record and certainly wished to advance further in the postseason. But for departing seniors Mitchum (who will pitch at Christopher Newport University), Long, and outfielders Sullivan and Jessica McLaughlin, the pain of Grafton will be supplanted by the Conference 20 Championship, and knowing they have indeed advanced Hanover Hawks softball back into the state title conversation, where they won it all in 2006, and hope to do so again.