There wasn't much excitement at Loudoun Valley through the first couple of innings of the Vikings' Virginia AA quarterfinal softball game against visiting Grafton. Both teams were struggling to adjust to Tuesday afternoon's intense heat and humidity, and the 4 p.m. start meant a late-arriving crowd.
But by the third inning the bleachers were filled, and another large group of fans had planted lawn chairs beyond the fence in left field. Junior right fielder Tanya Gittings promptly gave them -- and her teammates -- a reason to cheer.
Gittings, who bats eighth, led off the third with a solo home run over the left field fence that brought the crowd to its feet and her team rushing toward home plate to celebrate what proved to be a 5-0 victory.
The Vikings (25-1) advanced to the state final four at Radford University.
"I couldn't believe it was going over, not even when I got to first base," said Gittings of the first over-the-fence home run of her career. "It wasn't until I got to second base that I finally slowed down. It was amazing; it just took my breath away."
Preston Everhart, the Vikings' volunteer hitting coach and father of All-Met twins Jennifer and Jessica Everhart, didn't need to wait nearly as long for confirmation. At the crack of the bat he was on his feet cheering Gittings's home-run swing.
And that was just the beginning.
Senior shortstop Jennifer Everhart followed Gittings's homer with a double to left field, and after senior third baseman Kori Bonner reached after being hit by a pitch, senior second baseman Jessica Everhart blasted a shot down the left field line that scored her sister. Senior left fielder Amy Edmondson then cleared the bases with a two-out, three-run home run that seemed to sail over the exact same spot that Gittings's ball had.
"Before Tanya's hit I don't want to say we were hot and tired, but we definitely didn't have much intensity," said Jessica Everhart, who also made a spectacular grab in the sixth inning that robbed Grafton pitcher Ashley Moore of what looked to be a sure hit up the middle. "And that just got us going. That's what makes our team so special. We can get that kind of spark from everyone."
Though all of Loudoun Valley's scoring came in that decisive third inning, a total of seven players registered hits for the Vikings, who put base runners on in all but the second inning. Grafton managed only two hits -- and three total base runners -- in what was a controlled and dominant performance from Vikings junior pitcher Cassie McGaha, who yielded no walks and struck out six batters.
"I've never seen a high school team where every kid can hit the ball like that," said Grafton Coach Dena Montini, whose team finished its season 20-5. "Against most teams you maybe have to worry about the first six batters, maybe. But the bottom of their lineup hit the ball even better than the top. And that's awfully tough to face.
"Between that and their pitcher, who really kept us off balance, there just wasn't much we could do."