More times this spring than Osbourn High School softball coach Renee Leake could count, team supporters or school colleagues would tell her the same thing: Losing a game would take the pressure off her team's unbeaten season and be beneficial in the long run.
"I heard that from so many people, and I remember thinking, 'I don't want to lose one,' " Leake said this week, a few days after her team -- then 27-0 -- lost to Kempsville in the Virginia AAA championship in Newport News.
Leake does not blame that wrenching 1-0 title game defeat -- the Chiefs scored in the bottom of the last inning on a two-out, two-strike hit from the No. 9 batter -- on the fact that her team was undefeated. The Eagles did not seem hung up on their unbeaten record, No. 1 Washington area ranking or No. 17 national ranking.
But Osbourn is the latest in a line of Prince William teams to head into a state tournament unbeaten only to emerge with a single loss, and no title.
* The Osbourn Park boys' soccer team was 20-0-1 before falling, 1-0, in the state quarterfinals to W.T. Woodson last week.
* The Potomac boys' basketball team was unbeaten in 2004 and 2005 before losing in the state championship and state quarterfinals, respectively, in those years.
* The Osbourn baseball team toted a 24-0 record into the 2002 state tournament and lost in the quarterfinals.
Would a regular season loss have proved beneficial? Or did those five Prince William teams finally run into opposition as good, or better, than themselves?
Not including football, which does not play as many games, seven of the past nine AAA state team champions from Prince William -- including Stonewall Jackson softball (26-2) and Forest Park girls' basketball (26-3) in 2004 -- have finished with at least one loss. The exceptions during that time were the Woodbridge girls' soccer team, which went 21-0 in 2000, and the Hylton boys' soccer team, which went 20-0-1 in 1998.
Osbourn baseball coach Keith Howell, whose team lost in the state championship Saturday to Princess Anne, said there was a different vibe with his young Eagles (22-5) this spring than there was in 2002 when his veteran, unbeaten team qualified for states.
"It seems like going in undefeated you're always on the backburner thinking about keeping your record unblemished rather than going ahead and thinking of what it takes to win the next game," said Howell, whose team lost at home to Mills Godwin in the state quarterfinals in 2002. "I thought we did that a lot when we were undefeated. We would do what we could not to screw up instead of playing. . . . A lot of times we played not to lose.
"Baseball is not a game made for being perfect. You have to get the right breaks instead of worrying about being perfect all the time. [Being unbeaten] causes a lot more stress."
The Osbourn Park boys' soccer team entered last week's state tournament with no losses and one tie. Even in retrospect, if Coach Larry Nemerow had had it his way, it would have been all wins. No tie, no losses.
"If you're a competitor, you don't want to lose," he said. "I can sit there sometimes and say to myself -- and this is a very selfish thing -- 'All I want to do is win every game. Can't we win every game?' But I do hear people saying you have to have a loss. I don't believe that, even though we lost in the first round.
"If we were 19-1 or 16-5 or whatever and we lost in the first round, no one would be asking this question. Going into it undefeated I think was a good thing. . . . We needed to win one more game maybe to prove to other people that we could live up to our record, but not to ourselves."
If the Yellow Jackets had advanced to the state final, they would have run into another unbeaten team -- Thomas Dale of Chester.
"You all can't win," Nemerow said, "if you're going to play each other."