UPDATE: Patrick Henry Softball clinched its second berth in the State Championship Tournament in three years with a 12-0 win Wednesday night over Stone Bridge in the 5A North Region Semifinals.
Paige Mitchell’s grand slam in the bottom of the fourth broke the game wide open. The Patriots are 17-1 and play this Friday for the 5A North Region title.
Any Patrick Henry fan concerned about a one-week layoff between the team’s Conference 16 championship victory and their first game in the new 5A North Region Tournament shouldn’t have been.
Like a well-oiled machine, the Patriots scored five runs in the first inning and never looked back, pounding Tuscarora 11-1 in Region Quarterfinal action Monday evening in Ashland.
Five Patriots had multi-hit games, led by Paige Mitchell’s three, with an RBI and a run, and center fielder Kendall Thomas, a senior whose offense in the sixth spot in the lineup has been a pleasant surprise this season, whose two hits scored five runs. Thomas’ first inning double with bases loaded scored three of the first inning’s five runs.
Head Coach Shelby Webb saw the performance as a manifestation of a team-first attitude preached to the players since practice began in February, mindful at this point of the experience of Thomas, Mitchell and catcher Ashley Samuels in the Patriots’ 2012 run to the state final.
“We talk regularly about how important playing for the name on the front of the jersey is and how each person contributes to the team and to our goals,” Webb explained. “We have players who have been down this road before; we’re counting on their experience and leadership to help us continue to be successful.”
The Patriots batted around in the first. With the bases loaded after singles by Candace Whittemore and Mitchell and an intentional walk to Samuels, Grayson Radcliffe lifted a fly ball to left field. What should have been a sacrifice fly to score one run for the second out of the inning for Tuscarora ended as an error when left fielder MaKenna Mayflower dropped it, setting up Thomas’ three-run double.
That was more than enough for Whittemore, who held Tuscarora to two hits for her 34th win over two seasons in the Patriots circle. The number six through nine hitters accounted for six of Patrick Henry’s 13 hits. One area of concern for the Patriots: defense. They had four errors, a statistic that needs to disappear as they play deeper into the postseason.
Webb is reflective about the road left to go, the importance of repeating their offensive performance of Monday, especially, and the arm of Whittemore.
“Everyone knows it’s difficult to play when pressure is applied; that’s what we want to do,” Webb noted. “Put as much pressure on our opponents as early and as consistently as we can. Not seeing the tournament teams, we need to put ourselves in the best possible position to win, giving relief and confidence to Candace in the circle.”
Patrick Henry faced Stone Bridge, the team they defeated in Ashburn two years ago to clinch a State Tournament berth, Wednesday night (after presstime) in the 5A North Semifinals, with an opportunity to do it again.