O’Connell senior Madison Gayle almost never bunts. Almost.

But when her coach asked her to lay down a sacrifice bunt in extra innings in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association championship game Friday in Dinwiddie against top-seeded Potomac School, her answer came easily: “If that’s what the team needs, that’s what I’ll do.”

Gayle plunked a perfect bunt to advance freshman Jericho Tate from first to third, and she reached first safely on an error by the Potomac catcher. Two singles later, Tate and Gayle had scored to give the Knights a two-run lead in the ninth inning.

O’Connell sophomore pitcher Katie Kutz retired the Potomac side in order in the bottom of the inning to lock down a 4-2 victory and a ninth-straight VISAA title for the third-seeded Knights.

The catcher and lone senior in O’Connell’s starting lineup, Gayle also helped calm her teammates, Coach Suzy Willemssen said, after Potomac tied the game 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh and threatened to win it with two runners on and one out.

Gayle is one of the few players remaining from O’Connell’s 2019 VISAA championship team. In that game, a 9-3 win against top-seeded Potomac, Gayle blasted a three-run home run.

Neither team expected a high-scoring game this time. O’Connell (9-0) had allowed just three runs this season behind the pitching of Kutz, and Potomac (8-1) had not allowed a single run behind senior pitcher Maria Urban.

Kutz pitched a perfect game in the Knights’ 12-0 win against Washington Catholic Athletic Conference rival Paul VI in the VISAA quarterfinal and pitched a 15-strikeout two-hitter in a 7-1 win against Trinity Episcopal in the semifinal.

Urban tossed a perfect game of her own in the Panthers’ 10-0 win against St. Catherine’s in the quarterfinal round and then pitched a 10-strikeout one-hitter against Independent School League rival Flint Hill in the semifinal.

The WCAC and ISL went without conference tournaments because of the pandemic, so the VISAA tournament was these teams’ only chance for a championship.

“When you play, you want to play for something, so it was great to have the opportunity to fight for a championship,” Willemssen said.

O’Connell scored two runs in the first inning with the benefit of a Potomac error. Potomac got a run in both the sixth and seventh to tie the game. Other than that, both pitchers were dealing. Kutz finished with 11 strikeouts, Urban with eight.

“Both of them were just throwing gas,” Gayle said.

In the ninth inning, though, O’Connell pushed across two runs on RBI singles by sophomores Sara Rollins and Alyssa Dichard before Kutz went back to the circle to clinch the championship.

“I was jumping up and down screaming when we scored,” Kutz said. “Everyone in the dugout was screaming. Then I had to lock back in. But I was just reminding myself of all the work we did to get to here, and I just gave it everything I had.”

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