How about . . . the continued clutch hitting of Stonewall Jackson junior Katie Speaks?
During the second half of the season, Speaks has delivered a series of clutch hits, the most recent being a two-run triple in the bottom of the sixth inning of a 6-4 home win over Oakton in the Virginia AAA quarterfinals Tuesday.
Cleanup batter Speaks is tucked into the order behind All-Mets Courtney Bures and Jessie Green, but she has been anything but an easy out herself. Speaks reached base in all four at-bats against Oakton. She walked to load the bases in the first, was hit by a pitch in the third, singled to open the fifth and then tripled in the sixth to give her team a 5-3 lead. She scored later that inning on a wild pitch.
Coach Jason Koch "put me in a position in the batting order where I'm going to be in that situation a lot, and I like to be in that situation where I know that the game is in my hands," Speaks said. "That's what coach says; it's not always going to be up to Courtney. Someone else has to . . . get that big hit."
"Katie's come through for us a lot of times," Bures said. "She's been pretty good for us all season coming through with the big hit."
The triple Tuesday came on the first pitch from Cougars sophomore Jesse McCarrick after a lengthy delay in which Oakton coaches questioned a ruling on the field. Speaks was ready despite the lapse.
"It was up, and she had been keeping the ball either way up to try to get us to chase or down in the zone," Speaks said. "It was right in a good spot to hit. It also didn't have as much velocity as her pitches had earlier."
Junior Amanda Burk has been another valuable Raider throughout the season. At some point, she has played every position but pitcher, first base and center field. Her nickname is "Rock" for being sturdy behind the plate, but "Rolling Stone" might be a more apt tag, considering how she skips around where needed.
"I like being in different spots," said Burk, who had two hits Tuesday from her leadoff spot. "I'm kind of used to it. I like the thought of having my own position, but whatever the situation calls for. . . ."
Issues at Home
Koch and Oakton Coach Chris Jarboe were both dismayed at what they thought was inferior home-plate umpiring Tuesday. It is common for coaches to complain about umpiring, of course, but this went beyond the typical grousing. The coaches did not believe it favored either team, necessarily, just that it diminished the game.
"That's the worst I've ever seen, honestly," Koch said. "You have to be a little more professional than that if you're going to come into a state game. It's hard to say who was the better team today. It really was. We came up on the scoreboard, but I think it would have been a better game if we would have had the coaches calling [balls and strikes]. I can't say it was a hitter's or a pitcher's game. I can't even tell you what the strike zone was. I really can't. . . . You have good ball players on both sides, and they weren't able to perform to their fullest because the game wasn't in our control. Nobody knew what was going to happen."
"His kids and my kids were both handcuffed when they went up," Jarboe said. "They weren't really sure what they were going to swing at, they weren't sure what they shouldn't swing at. That makes it frustrating. . . . It wasn't unfair, just shaky."
A single late in the game bounced up and struck senior right fielder Kristen Windle in the jaw. Koch is unsure whether it will keep her out of the lineup tomorrow. . . .
The Raiders had the bases loaded with one out in the first and the bases loaded with no outs in the fifth, yet came up empty each time. Even so, Bures said she was not overly concerned about the missed opportunities.
"I don't think anybody had any doubts, because we were getting on base, and we were just all waiting for the big hit," she said. "I guess we all had the feeling that it was going to come sooner or later."
-- PRESTON WILLIAMS