Loudoun Valley softball coach Joe Spicer sat perched on the front ledge of the dugout his team had called home for two days at Radford University Saturday afternoon with a smile and a glint in his eye. His gaze was set firmly on his players, who were still celebrating and raising the trophy that marked their second Virginia AA championship in three years.
"It's been a long season," Spicer said, slowly shaking his head. "So much pressure. It's one of those situations where if we had finished 26-2, we'd have felt like we hadn't done our job. We really needed to win it all to justify the talent level we have."
The Vikings (27-1) did just that, wrapping up their season with a nearly perfect performance against Dan River (24-4) in the finale, 3-0. The victory cemented the Vikings' legacy as one of the best softball teams in state history and marked the first time in Loudoun Valley history that two teams have won a state title in the same school year. The volleyball team went undefeated in the fall en route to its Virginia AA title.
"That team right there is about as good of a team as you'll ever see," Dan River softball coach Ryan Scolpini said. "Offensively, defensively, pitching -- they've got it all. Obviously they're the best team in the state, but they're also by far the best team we've seen this year. There's no shame in losing to a team like that."
Though no victory is guaranteed, the outcome of Saturday's final seemed a formality. Loudoun Valley entered the game having shut out 19 opponents and had not yielded a run throughout the playoffs, outscoring Fort Defiance, Monticello, Turner Ashby, Grafton and Poquoson by a combined 19-0.
Dan River, a small, speedy team, got to the final with its short game -- bunting and slap hitting through at least half of its lineup. That style was no match against a Vikings team that not only has two All-Met infielders in senior shortstop Jennifer Everhart and senior second baseman Jessica Everhart, but also reliable fielding on the corners with senior third baseman Kori Bonner and junior first baseman Natacia Lance.
The Wildcats also were not accustomed to facing a pitcher the caliber of junior Cassie McGaha. A single by Dan River leadoff batter Gwen Turner in the top of the seventh inning proved the only blemish in what was otherwise a perfect game for McGaha.
"I was so bummed," McGaha said of the lone hit. "But we won, so it's still all good. It just would have been so exciting to throw a perfect game."
In all, 13 Wildcats hit ground balls in the infield that were fielded cleanly and delivered to first base for outs. Two more hit fly balls were caught for outs, and McGaha struck out five. Turner, Dan River's only base runner, reached on a single to left field but was promptly thrown out by junior catcher Malorie Weller, who also had been monitoring McGaha's performance, as she attempted to steal second base.
"I was so mad when she got that hit because I had been keeping track, and I knew Cassie had a perfect game going," Weller said. "And [Turner] ruined it, but we got her back."
Jennifer Everhart led off the game for Loudoun Valley with a triple to center field and scored on an RBI single by senior center fielder Alyson Moler for a 1-0 lead at the end of the first inning. Loudoun Valley added another run in the fourth and fifth innings on an RBI single by senior left fielder Amy Edmondson and an RBI double by Weller.
"This is just the best feeling in the world," said Jennifer Everhart, the only player who started on both title-winning teams this year. "It's everything we worked for."
There was even a bit of romance during the season. Dan Hench, the boyfriend of assistant coach Kristen Griswold, had his secret plans to propose marriage interrupted more than once by rescheduled rainouts and playoff victories that kept extending the season. So last Thursday, Hench surprised Griswold in Loudoun Valley's home dugout with an engagement ring just before the Vikings were to leave school for Radford.
"I guess he figured he had to come to me on the field," Griswold said, laughing. "It's just been the best weekend. It started at home with a proposal on the softball field and ended with us holding a trophy on the softball field here. It's been perfect."
Especially for the six Vikings seniors -- Bonner, Edmondson, the Everhart twins, Moler and Jamie Fraysher -- who Spicer said rate as perhaps the finest senior class in school history, not only because of their immense talent but also their uncommon chemistry.
"People were asking us at the beginning of the season if we were going to win states again this year, so the expectation has been there from the start," Moler said. "But we felt from the beginning, too, that it was our time again. It's just really special for all of us. It was such a weird feeling at the end, fighting between tears and smiles all at the same time.
"We wanted this so bad -- and it feels great -- but we also aren't really ready for it to end."