There were few teary eyes to be found among the players on the Broad Run softball team Tuesday night after Nansemond River of Suffolk spoiled the Spartans' first Group AAA state tournament appearance by handing them a 4-0 defeat in a quarterfinal at West Springfield. In fact, a few of them even smiled as Coach Ed Steele addressed the team in left field following the game.
After all, few expected the Spartans to be in the state tournament in the first place.
Broad Run suffered its first losing season under Steele last year and was eliminated by Fairfax in the play-in game of the Liberty District tournament. The Spartans graduated several senior starters off that team, and they entered this season wondering how far they could go with a freshman pitcher, Christy Anch, and a freshman catcher, Jessica Olownia.
They found out during May, when Broad Run did not lose a game. The Spartans (25-4), ranked third in the Washington area, captured their first Liberty District and Northern Region tournament titles, with Anch tossing shutouts in six of those seven games.
Broad Run also won 14 straight following a 6-2 loss to then-No. 1 Madison on April 26. The Spartans even avenged that defeat with a 1-0, eight-inning triumph over the Warhawks in Friday's Northern Region final. But Tuesday night, their fortunes changed.
Broad Run immediately was caught off guard by Nansemond River (19-6), the Eastern Region runner-up. The Warriors' first two batters in the top of the first, senior left-handed hitters Jennifer Shannon and Kristi Hopkins, both hit perfect bunts to the third-base side and stunned the Spartans infield by beating both throws to first by several steps. Both scored on a one-out infield single, with the second run unearned because of a throwing error at the end of the play.
"They laid down the bunt really well and had a lot of speed," said Broad Run junior shortstop Autumn Wacker. "People told us they were weak, but that was obviously not the case. They were a really good team."
Said Steele: "Nobody around here plays like that, and it is tough to adjust to that so quickly. We didn't face anyone in the Northern Region quite like that."
Nansemond River senior pitcher Susan Frank, a left-hander, struck out four and yielded only four hits. Broad Run stranded all eight of its base runners.
Frank's pitches "had a lot of movement on them," said Olownia, who led the team with a batting average over .500 during the regular season. She went 1 for 4 with a seventh-inning single Tuesday night. "She looked a lot slower than she actually was."
And after Nansemond River scored more runs off Anch (nine strikeouts) in the first inning than opponents had tallied against her during the entire postseason, Broad Run was in trouble.
"When you win as many games as we have, 1-0, you are pushing your luck," Steele said. "You have got to get more offense."
Something for the Spartans to think about next year, when the they move to the AA Northwestern District with all but three seniors from this year's team -- second baseman Sarah Whitman, third baseman Beth Tommasone and outfielder Charlene Kordon.
"I thought we might have a winning season this year, but I never expected this," said Wacker, who was the pitcher on last year's team. "Our defense stepped up a lot, our captains showed a lot of leadership and our pitcher and catcher did really well. . . . I am not upset that we lost this game, because we have come so far."
Nansemond River (19-6) 201 001 0 -- 4 9 2
Broad Run (25-4) 000 000 0 -- 0 4 3
Frank and Hopkins; Anch and Olownia.
CAPTION: Kristen Brumm, left, is on second Tuesday for Broad Run, which surpassed expectations with its first Liberty District, Northern Region tournament titles.