As Virginia AAA runners-up the past two seasons, the veteran Stonewall Jackson softball players knew all about championship disappointment. What they did not know was season-ending satisfaction, and that's what made the reaction to their 1-0 win over Madison in the state championship Saturday in Newport News momentarily confounding.
When you finally snag the quarry you have spent three years pursuing, then what? This at a school that had not won a state title in any sport in its 40-year history and had lost in the state softball final in 1996, 2002 and 2003.
"Right after the game, we talked about how we didn't know how to celebrate because [Coach Jason Koch] told us we can't celebrate until we win," junior center fielder Katie Speaks said Monday. "[Afterward], we all kind of looked at each other."
The Raiders figured it out soon enough, with a gleeful celebration that spilled into the parking lot of the Stoney Run Athletic Complex, which debuted Friday with the state semifinals. Stonewall joined Potomac (1985) and Gar-Field (1993) as AAA softball champions from Prince William County. Brentsville (1998) and Manassas Park (2000) have won Virginia A softball titles.
Stonewall scored in the fourth inning against Madison, but the Raiders were not in control of the game. Not when Warhawks junior Lauren Frankiewicz was striking out 17 batters against a Stonewall team that the night before had peppered unbeaten Mills Godwin for nine hits and nine runs.
Frankiewicz made her presence known in the first inning of the championship, striking out All-Met Player of the Year Courtney Bures on a 3-2 foul tip. Bures had not fanned all season, and seeing her come up empty could not have emboldened her teammates.
"It set a tone, any way you look at it," Koch said. "Not many girls can strike her out. I think it may have sunk [our girls] a little bit."
But not Bures, who could not wait for her next at-bat against fellow All-Met Frankiewicz.
"She's an awesome pitcher, and a lot of times it takes an at-bat to adjust to a good pitcher," Bures said. "I'm not sure what the rest of the team was thinking, but I was thinking that she wasn't going to fool me again."
When Bures finally made it to the plate for her second at-bat, to lead off the fourth inning, she again worked the count full before rapping a hard grounder that sophomore shortstop Jenny Matthews could not field cleanly. With Koch's blessing, Bures stole second and third with team RBI leader Jessie Green at the plate.
Green struck out looking, and with cleanup hitter Speaks at bat, Bures broke for home when a pitch squirted a short distance from Madison senior catcher Amanda Shanklin.
To that point, nine out of 10 Raiders had struck out against Frankiewicz, so Bures' scamper home was a calculated risk worth taking, one that exemplified the "be smart, be victorious" message on some Stonewall T-shirts. The run was the first Madison had given up in five games.
"Hey, make the catcher throw it," Koch said of the decision to turn Bures loose on the base paths. "Maybe she throws it away. You've got to make something happen. If she throws her out, oh well. The way Lauren was throwing, if [Courtney's] on second she's probably going to be left on second. . . . I could see it in the eyes of the coaches in the other dugout. They know if Courtney gets on base, look out. You don't even need to get a base hit for her to score."
"When it's that close, you have to go on instinct and go as you see it," Bures said. "Usually when the ball hits the ground you're going to be a little bit more alert because the bases are so close together you could probably make it if the catcher bobbles it. So I just got a good jump when I saw it hit the ground and then when it got away from her, I went."
The one run held up for Bures, who allowed four hits, all singles, three of them to senior Megan Wolfrey. The Warhawks (25-5) got runners on in each of the first five innings and in scoring position the first three. Bures set down the final seven batters in order.
Like most championship teams, the Raiders evolved during the season. Early on, Koch dismissed a starting outfielder, which caused some shufflings. In late March, Bures was batting leadoff, with Speaks, Green and junior Amanda Burk following her in the order. By the end of the season, Burk had risen to the leadoff spot, followed by Bures, Green and Speaks.
With the revised lineup, .500-plus hitter Bures got more pitches to swing at, Green knocked in almost 40 runs and Speaks delivered many meaningful hits from the cleanup spot.
Bures and junior Kirby Jenkins are not strikeout pitchers, but the defense was sturdy enough behind them to enable the Raiders to shut out 11 of their final 14 opponents. And if the Raiders were known for anything more than three-time All-Met Bures and their rivalry with Osbourn (the teams met five times this season), it was their reliable bats, the championship game notwithstanding.
"I don't think they have a glitch on that team," said Frankiewicz, who struck out 410 batters this season.
From its starting lineup, Stonewall will lose Bures, who signed with Mississippi State, second baseman Lauren Mayoral, third baseman Julie Pallatt, left fielder Amber Kennedy and right fielder Kristin Windle. Shortstop Burk, first baseman Green, center fielder Speaks, designated hitter Keshia Robinson and catcher Kimmy Spinks all will return, along with junior Kirby Jenkins, the starting pitcher most of the spring.
The Raiders (26-2), who finished the season ranked No. 1 in the Washington area, made little nips and tucks during the season, but they did not waver from the principles that carried them to state final appearances in 2002 and 2003.
"We didn't change anything," said Koch, whose team beat Madison, 2-0, in the state semifinals last year. "I didn't come into the year saying, 'Hey, look, we didn't do this last year . . . this is the reason why we [lost].' We just stayed with the same thing. I didn't change bunt plays. I didn't change calling pitches. We just stayed the same way and felt like we were good enough to come back."