The Virginia AAA Northwestern Region stretches from Prince William County south to Danville, near the North Carolina border. It is a catch-all affiliation for the state's largest schools that do not dovetail into the compact Eastern, Central or Northern regions.
Yet despite the Northwestern's sprawling three-area-code layout, the schools involved in the region softball championship for the past three years -- Cedar Run District schools Stonewall Jackson (22-2) and Osbourn (19-4) -- stand about three miles apart in Manassas. Their region final at 4 p.m. today at Stonewall will be their 13th meeting in three years.
"It says something about the programs," Osbourn Coach Renee Leake said. "Looking at the bracketing along the way, I thought last week that that's who we were probably going to end up playing. It's great competition. . . . We know them and they know us."
Both teams qualified for the state tournament with shutout wins in the region semifinals on Wednesday. Stonewall beat host Culpeper, 3-0, on a one-hitter by senior All-Met Courtney Bures, who splits time between shortstop and pitcher. It was the Raiders' eighth shutout in the past 10 games. Osbourn won its semifinal, 5-0, at George Washington-Danville. Junior All-Met Cristi Ecks threw a four-hitter, striking out 10 and walking none.
Stonewall, which has taken three of four games from the Eagles this spring, lost in the state championship the past two years; Osbourn fell in the state semifinals both seasons, though not to Stonewall.
Falcons Show Grit
Fauquier baseball coach Paul Koch said he feared a fifth-inning grand slam by Stone Bridge's Landon Gouveia could have had a demoralizing effect on his team in a Virginia AA Region II baseball semifinal Wednesday night.
The home run gave Stone Bridge a 6-2 lead over the host Falcons. But six innings and more than an hour later, Fauquier (18-6) had scratched out a 7-6 victory -- earning a berth in the state tournament. The Falcons will host Sherando in the region final tonight.
"The kids could have hung their heads," said Koch, in his first season with the Falcons. "But instead they just kept battling. It was a gutsy, tough, gritty performance. Never in my life have I been prouder of a group of guys."
Tied at 6 entering extra innings, Fauquier freshman Brandon Bartlett twice pitched out of bases-loaded jams; Bartlett finished with seven scoreless innings of relief. He was helped by several key defensive plays by senior shortstop Matt Steele, who initiated two inning-ending double plays.
The Falcons eventually loaded the bases in the bottom of the 11th, and junior Philip Ethier scored the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly by junior Andrew Johnson.
"To say it was an amazing win . . . well, even that can't do it justice," Koch said.
Moreland Leads Lee
Riding a pitching staff led by Kenny Moreland, Lee has made a surprising march to the Virginia AAA Northern Region final.
Moreland has thrown two complete games in the region tournament, striking out a combined 21 batters in victories over Mount Vernon and Robinson. In between, Troy Hamilton's complete game resulted in a 13-2 win over Chantilly.
The Lancers (14-10) will face Westfield (17-6) tonight at 8 at Fairfax High; both teams have already qualified for the Virginia AAA tournament.
In a 12-3 semifinal win against Robinson on Wednesday, Moreland was at his best when he was on the verge of getting in trouble.
The Rams had back-to-back doubles to pull within 4-2 in the fourth, but Moreland closed out the inning with a pickoff and two strikeouts. Robinson had two more doubles in the sixth, but Moreland settled down to strike out four of the final batters to end the game.
"It happens to me all the time," said Moreland, who had a season-high 19 strikeouts in a one-hitter against South Lakes on March 30. "I guess I go out there and relax too much but once they start ripping me I bear down and focus a little bit and I start bringing it."
Special correspondent Charlie Moss contributed to this report.