Ascending the rolling incline of James Madison Drive in Vienna is a daily event for Kathy Matthew. For at its apex is her school, Madison High, home of last year's Virginia state champion girls softball team.
Matthew, a senior, particularly relishes the view of the large white letters that declare Madison's softball conquests in 1979 and 1984.
One recent morning, she looked at Sharon Polsgrove, with whom she commutes, and said, dreamily, "A 1985 sure would look good up there, wouldn't it?"
"It sure would," said Polsgrove, the team's first baseman. "It sure would."
Unfortunately, Matthew's goal was cut short last week when the Warhawks lost in the Northern Region semifinals, 4-3, to Robinson.
Despite the loss, Madison had an outstanding season, finishing 17-1 in the regular season.
Coach Pat Dean may have done the casting for the Madison productions, but the way Matthew, a windmill pitcher, directs the ball, she pretty much wrote the script for the play on the field. A starter four seasons, Matthew and Madison amassed one state, one regional and four district titles.
"One of the reasons I like softball so much," said Matthew, "is because so many games are decided by strength of the pitchers. The responsibility is appealing to me."
Dean, the coach since 1976, is happy to give Matthew that responsibility.
Dean points to a photo taken during the 1984 championship game. Matthew is standing on the mound, the ball clutched tightly in her right hand and wearing a wide grin. "Some people may mistake a look like that for cockiness, but with Kathy, I know that she feels in control," said Dean. "That's what I look for."
There was good reason for Matthew to smile in that title game with Central Region representative Lee-Davis of Richmond. She pitched seven innings of perfect ball and nine innings of no-hit ball before Madison won, 1-0, in the 13th inning.
"I wasn't thinking about anything but throwing strikes," said Matthew, who struck out 11. "I sensed I had a no-hitter going for a long time, but I just didn't want to walk anybody. Those are the runners who score.
"That had to have been the most exciting game of my career, although it didn't hit me until later that we were state champions. I guess having other people mention it finally made it sink in."
Last season was Madison and Matthew's best. The Warhawks won 22 straight, and Matthew cut her ERA to 0.58. En route to 23-0, 17-0 and 15-0 regular season victories, Matthew was nearly a one-person team.
This season was not quite the same.
"I decided to play basketball over the winter, so I wasn't spending every day pitching like I did the winter before," said Matthew. "I didn't have as much speed."
Her motivation to become "the old Kathy" intensified after Madison lost to West Springfield in the final of the Northern Virginia Invitational April 12. That loss broke a 28-game Madison winning streak.
"Maybe because we won state last year, we thought it was something we could do again this year," she said. "I know I pushed that much harder. I worked on getting the speed up and later I worked on control."
Matthew looked very much like her old self in the opening round of the regional tournament last week, especially when she struck out Chantilly's Amy Saul (daughter of ex-Redskin Ron Saul) in the top of the fifth.
"I have a tendency to get down on myself because I'm a perfectionist," said Matthew. "But this season, I never felt like things weren't going to get better. I knew I just had to keep working at it."
Matthew was fortunate to have not only the support of her teammates, but that of an usually large following of fans for a girls softball team (about 50). Anyone in the vicinity of a Madison game could hear the enthusiastic cheering.
Now that Madison's season has ended, however, Matthew will leave the mound, at least for a while. She has been recruited by South Carolina and will play center field her freshman year.
"It doesn't really matter to me that I won't be pitching right away," she said. "It will be hard enough to adjust to college and it's better to play there than to not start at all."
"I don't think, after starting four years years at Madison and on my summer league team (the Vienna Shamrocks) that I would want to be on the bench," said Matthew, who has played softball since she was eight.