Loudoun County junior first baseman Tara Campbell stepped slowly to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning of the Raiders' 4-1 victory over Park View on Monday night and tried desperately to clear her mind.
At the time, the seventh-ranked Raiders were locked in a scoreless tie with the No. 8 Patriots in a Dulles District semifinal game that, by virtue of No. 3 Loudoun Valley's 3-2 victory over Broad Run in the first semifinal, assured the winner the league's second berth into the upcoming Region II playoffs.
The Vikings, the defending Virginia AA champions, were guaranteed a berth by winning the regular season race.
Two runners were on base with one out when Campbell approached. As pressure-filled as that situation would have been on its own, those weren't the thoughts Campbell was trying to quiet in her own mind. The bigger concern: She had struck out in her first two at-bats.
"I knew I couldn't let the strikeouts get to me," Campbell said. "So I was just trying to get them out of my head. I had a job to do up there to move the runners around. I wasn't going to let those first two strikeouts get to me. I couldn't."
Facing a full count, Campbell hit a hard ground ball to shortstop that scored the game's first run.
"At first all I felt was relief," Campbell said. "Then I got excited."
The Raiders (17-3) added three more runs in the inning, scoring on an error and on RBI singles by third baseman Taryn Kirk and Jackie Mathews to clinch their first regional playoff berth since 1999.
"I think in the first few innings, we were just really, really anxious," said first-year coach Richard Pell. "I had stressed that we needed to jump out on top early, and I think I stressed it too much. We were pressing too much. Tara, for one, wasn't seeing the pitches. She was just hoping it would be there so she could crush it out of the park.
"But that last at-bat I could sense she was relaxing. And I knew then she'd be able to put the ball in play."
Falcons Come Out of Dark, 2-0
When the lights went out in the middle of the fourth inning of Fauquier's 2-0 victory over Warren County in a Northwestern District semifinal on Tuesday night, Falcons third baseman Mikki Zick immediately threw her hands in the air and yelled, "I didn't do it!"
Zick had caused an outage once before, during last year's Falcons Softball Bash. She and the rest of the team knew from that experience it would take more than 20 minutes for the lights to return to full strength, which would not have been a problem had the start of the game Tuesday not already been pushed back nearly 90 minutes because of lightning and rain.
"When I did it, I didn't know that the key light was that," said Zick, pointing to a box adjacent to the home dugout. "So I turned it. . . . When it happened this time, it just brought back bad memories. It had already been such a long day."
The break worked out well, however, for Fauquier (16-6). When play resumed, the Falcons quickly picked up the final out in the top of the fourth inning and then scored the game's only runs when they came to bat moments later.
Corey Payne started it with a double to deep center field and scored when Betty Stewart reached on an error. Aileen Legg, pinch running, later scored on another Warren County error.
The Falcons earned a spot in the district final against either top-seeded Liberty or Handley; the Eagles and Judges were postponed on Tuesday and were scheduled to play yesterday.
"Tonight the kids were determined," Falcons Coach Mark Ott said. "They were sitting in the dugout telling jokes while the lights were out, but that's how they stayed into it. I've learned from coaching girls for eight years that sometimes with things like that, you just have to let them do it their way. They didn't sit in there silent -- but they were still focused."
Fauquier senior pitcher Sara Green threw 117 pitches, yielding four hits and striking out six batters. She also issued five walks, but three of those came when Ott instructed her to intentionally walk Warren County's Ashlee Cannon. Fauquier and Warren County split their two meetings during the regular season; Cannon's home run in Warrenton had given the Wildcats a 1-0 victory on April 30.
"I don't know if I was smart or chicken or what, but we didn't pitch to her tonight," Ott said. "I didn't want to take that risk."