They were in the Cardinal District tournament and left with no trophy. They were in the Northwestern Region tournament and left with no trophy. And they were in the state tournament and left with no trophy.

Trophies, or the lack of, do not tell the Gar-Field softball story for 2005. Yes, the team went winless against Hylton, Osbourn and Stonewall Jackson during the regular season. But the Indians won the games they needed to win in the playoffs and advanced to the Virginia AAA semifinals before losingFriday to Eastern Region school Kempsville, 4-0, at the Stoney Run Athletic Complex.

"I don't think [losing to those teams] kept us from anything," senior shortstop Sarah Malene said of Gar-Field playing fourth fiddle to other Prince William County opponents for most of the spring. "It just made us want to beat them more because we were tired of losing to them."

Gar-Field Coach Mike McDonald said: "I told the kids [after the game Friday] that nobody thought you'd be here, and you're here. "We didn't win any hardware all year long, but still, we're one of the last four standing. They should be proud of themselves. They achieved it as a group, and that's something they can take and put right in the memory banks and keep forever."

In the meantime, they might try to forget their futility against Kempsville senior offspeed specialist Mallory Mazur, who struck out 16 batters and gave up just two hits, one each to Malene and senior Becky Horesky.

Malene led off the game with asingle and advanced to third on a sacrifice and wild pitch, but withered there. Horesky got thrown out at second for the final out of the fourth. The only other player to reach base did so when a third strike got away from the Chiefs' catcher.

Mazur did not throw changeups last season, but the University of Virginia-Wise signee has perfected her new pitch to the point -- McDonald counted three different speeds -- that it baffled the Indians (18-9).

Mazur said she could see the frustration on their faces in the early innings, and she acknowledged with a laugh that, yes, that's a look she has seen often this season.

"It's pretty hard because we've been seeing a lot of speed coming at us, and then the offspeed, it will throw you off," Horesky said. "So it's pretty hard to adjust, going from fast to slow. I guess people started getting down after a couple of innings and we were like, man, they're better than what we thought."

It made the Indians wish for an opposing pitcher throwing full-time heat.

"A kid that can change speeds like that and spot the ball like she does, that's a tough kid to hit," said McDonald, who took some solace in the fact that the final 11 strikeout victims went down swinging, not looking.

"It's harder to hit a kid like that than it is somebody that's just straight up fastball, pounding away. I'd rather see a kid that just brings it to you. Then you know you just have to hack and hope. This kid, she kept us dancing all day long."

The Indians, who allowed seven mostly solid hits and gave up three runs, due in part to walks, errors and a hit batsman, will remember a season in which they knocked off defending state champion Stonewall Jackson in the region semifinals, denying the Raiders a fourth straight state berth. And twice they took nationally ranked Osbourn to extra innings.

It was Gar-Field's first state tournament berth since 2001, and it sent college-bound players Malene (North Carolina-Charlotte) and Horesky (Western Kentucky) out in style. Starting third baseman Stephanie Murray also is a senior.

"I had no idea that we'd be here, to tell you the truth," Horesky said. "I didn't think we were going to get it, and then we pulled together and started doing what we were capable of."

"I had no idea that we'd be here, to tell you the truth," Rebecca Horesky, above, said of her team's playoff success.A 4-0 loss to Kempsville in the Virginia AAA semifinals left Gar-field team members dejected, but the Indians exceeded expectations this season.