Less than 24 hours before Loudoun County junior Sam Conner was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on her painful right throwing shoulder, she stood in the pitching circle last night for the No. 7 Raiders and gritted her way through a 4-1 victory over No. 8 Park View in a AA Dulles District tournament semifinal.
With No. 3 Loudoun Valley, the league's regular season champion, having defeated Broad Run, 3-2, in the first game of the doubleheader at Loudoun County, the victory ensured the Raiders of the league's second berth into the upcoming Virginia AA Region II playoffs. The Vikings, the defending Virginia AA champions, were guaranteed a berth by winning the regular season race.
"It meant everything for us to win this game," Conner said. "We all came out here wanting it so bad, you could just feel the intensity right when we got on the field. . . . I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to pitch tonight, but Coach [Richard Pell] asked me to try. Once I got started and I was throwing okay, I just tried not to think about the pain."
Scoreless entering the bottom of the sixth inning, Loudoun County strung together five hits and four runs off Park View sophomore Brittany Gardner (7 hits, 5 strikeouts, 0 walks), including RBI singles by Tara Campbell, Taryn Kirk and Jackie Mathews.
Conner, who worked out of jams in both the fifth and sixth innings, yielded a lone run in the seventh on an RBI single by Julia Dominguez.
Conner yielded four hits, struck out seven and walked two despite not having pitched since injuring her shoulder in a 5-4 win over Loudoun Valley in 10 innings on May 18 in the regular season finale for both teams. The Raiders and Vikings split during the regular season, with Loudoun Valley winning, 2-0, on April 28.
"I think that week off really did her good," Pell said of Conner. "Even still, the thing that is remarkable about it is that she's not doing this for herself. She's doing it for her teammates. She's told me more than once that she doesn't want to let them down. I think that says a lot about her character."
Loudoun Valley needed similar late-game production in its win over Broad Run, rallying from a 2-0 deficit in the sixth inning for its victory.
Tied at 2 with one out in the bottom of the seventh, Vikings junior shortstop Jennifer Everhart doubled to left field. She remained perched on second as Broad Run junior pitcher Jenny Clohan registered her eighth strikeout of the game, putting the Spartans within one out of extra innings.
But Everhart alertly moved to third base on a passed ball, putting the game-winning run 60 feet away.
"As soon as I got to third, Coach [Joe] Spicer told me to look for it again," said Everhart, who went 2 for 3 with a walk. "So I was ready."
Two pitches later, Everhart scored on a wild pitch that hit just in front of the plate and skipped past the catcher.
"I'm almost afraid to see her come back next year, because I don't know how she can play any better," Spicer said. "Her batting, fielding, base running. . . . She's just playing at another level right now."
Loudoun Valley (19-2) and Loudoun County (17-3) will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the district final at Loudoun County.