Stone Bridge softball team is on a mission in the state tournament


Stone Bridge has had plenty to be happy about so far this season. The Bulldogs face defending state champion Cosby at 4 p.m. Saturday in the state semifinals at Westfield. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)
June 8, 2013

Niki Prince’s first appearance in the Virginia AAA state tournament left the Stone Bridge senior feeling hollow and restless.

The final game of Prince’s junior season was a dud, a shutout at the hands of visiting Patrick Henry. Three days before that, the fervor surrounding her team peaked. The Bulldogs defeated Oakton by one run in the Northern Region finals. Stone Bridge had only lost two games at that point.

They jumped. They hollered. They formed a dog pile. They talked in disbelief about hosting a state tournament quarterfinal, a game that would ultimately leave them in tears.

Prince cried, but did not feel the sting of elimination until the following day, when the clock signaled time for a practice that would not be held.

“I was like, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ ” she said. “Wow. I guess we’re done.”

The shelf life of her high school career came to light when Prince thought about the seniors she would never play with again. She had one year left to accomplish a goal that first popped into her head as a sophomore.

Even before she won Northern Region player of the year two years in a row, Prince thought she could lead her team to a state championship.

“[Last year] was kind of cut short,” she said. “We definitely thought this year was our year.”

The Bulldogs face defending state champion Cosby at 4 p.m. Saturday in the state semifinals at Westfield.

No days off

So far, the 2013 season has followed a path pleasing to Prince and her teammates.

The Bulldogs have averaged more than 10 runs a game, won another region title and completed a comeback victory over Osbourn in the state quarterfinals Tuesday. They swept every opponent in the Liberty District, which represented all four teams in the region semifinals.

Stone Bridge breezed through the regular season with few tests. Washington Catholic Athletic Conference powerhouse O’Connell was the only team to beat the Bulldogs, who held the Knights to just three runs but were shut out.

Nonconference foe Westfield battled Stone Bridge in extra innings in May before Sydney Broderick hit a walk-off home run.

Broderick said her team’s performance manifests Coach Billy Rice’s mantra, “No days off.”

When winter conditions persisted into April with howling winds and temperatures in the 30s, the Bulldogs practiced in sweats and mined body heat with impromptu huddles in the dugout.

When snow blanketed the field in Ashburn during practice, Rice kept his players to their routine. When rain pelted the field? No days off.

“We were saying, ‘Hey, I bet no one else is playing in this right now,’” she said.

“What if we had a game this day we had to play? It’s just going to make everyone better in situations like that,”

According to Broderick, batting practice with Rice includes no meatballs. The coach tries to replicate the upcoming opposing pitcher’s strengths in the circle.

When Broderick hones her defense in center field, her coach swats seemingly uncatchable flyballs to test her.

“He pushes you to your limits so you’ll be better each practice.”

The road to states

Along with Prince at shortstop and catcher Olivia Tatara, Broderick is one of three Bulldogs who made varsity as a freshman and now provide leadership up the middle of the defense.

Before Tuesday’s game against Osbourn, Broderick said Stone Bridge needed to grab an early lead and play solid defense to win. Instead, Osbourn jumped out to a 3-0 lead. In the second inning the Eagles capitalized on runners that reached on interference and a fielder’s choice punctuated with a throwing error to second.

The Bulldogs refused to repeat their recent history in the quarterfinals. Pitcher Kelly McDaniel hit a go-ahead home in the fifth inning to give her team the lead.

When freshman Olivia Sappington added another long ball, she became the eighth member of Stone Bridge’s lineup to go yard.

Having survived the biggest test of the postseason, the Bulldogs are two games away from capturing a more satisfying season finale.

“The only team that can beat us is ourselves,” Broderick said. “I’d like to end on a win.”

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