South County's Shannon Johnson, center, is mobbed by teammates Cara Martin, left, and Emma Yates after she scores the winning run during the Stallions’ 1-0 win over Cosby in a 17-inning Virginia Class 6 softball state championship in Glen Allen on Friday. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

As the innings total climbed in the Virginia Class 6 softball championship game Friday between South County and Cosby, the looks exchanged between the teams morphed from tense to incredulous. The final play added another layer of absurdity.

Through 16 innings at RF&P Park, the opponents fought to a scoreless stalemate. In the bottom of the 17th inning, South County freshman Shannon Johnson stood on second base. Ten runners had reached base for the Stallions and eight for the Titans, and none of them had crossed home plate, so why would this be any different?

South County freshman Nicole Puhek hit a sharp grounder that sent Johnson scrambling to third. As soon as she touched the base, she heard Coach Gary Dillow yelling. A throwing error had sent the ball flying, and Johnson dashed home to clinch the state title for South County with a 1-0 win.

“Seventeen innings!” Johnson exclaimed. “That’s crazy. I’ve never played a 17-inning game. That’s more than two full games.”

Dillow also said he had never participated in a game so long. It lasted nearly 4½ hours as the Stallions (19-4) and Titans (22-3) traded scoreless innings.


South County pitcher Cara Martin struck out 20 batters in 17 innings. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

“Once we saw the ball get away, we were going to take that chance,” Dillow said. “I was waiting all day to take that chance to get somebody home. And once we scored, I felt sheer relief as much as anything else.”

South County starting pitcher Cara Martin admitted to feeling a toll as the game wore on. The sophomore had pitched a standard seven-inning shutout Thursday in the Stallions’ 9-0 semifinal win against Manchester. Then she pitched all 17 innings of the final, matching blank for blank with Cosby sophomore Taylor Norton, who also went the distance.

“I felt myself starting to slow down,” Martin said. “I needed to stay focused in order to keep my energy up. It was really a matter of forgetting that I’m tired and relying on my technique and muscle memory, and that’s what I used for those last five innings or so.”

Martin and Norton each recorded 20 strikeouts. Few balls made it out of the infield, and each team had just one extra-base hit.

“We just kept telling each other: ‘This is the last inning,’ ” Martin said. “ ‘This is the last one. Keep your energy up; this is the last one.’ We just had to believe we could band together and do this, and we did.”

Maybe she was a bit tired, but as South County posed for a celebratory photo, Martin stole the show again, dropping into splits.