The difference had to be miniscule on a balmy Wednesday evening in Ashburn. The two top-ranked teams in Virginia were too evenly matched.
After five scoreless innings and tremendous defense from both teams, the Knights (10-0) broke through on a two-run single by sophomore right fielder Erin Sweeney.
“It was a nailbiter,” O’Connell Coach Tommy Orndorff said. “That’s a great team we played.”
Senior pitcher Tori Finucane, a returning All-Met selection and a Missouri recruit, pitched seven scoreless innings while tossing 11 strikeouts and picking her way out of jam after jam to deal Stone Bridge (8-1) its first loss.
“I was not feeling that great tonight,” she said. “My back was really tight. I just didn’t feel like I had it. I didn’t feel like I had good control of the ball. That’s why I was so lucky to have my defense behind me.”
Fincuane stepped up to the plate with two outs in the top of the sixth inning and popped a single that spun and fell dead in right field. Junior second baseman Amanda Ehlers, who smacked a double earlier in the game, then reached on an error before Sweeney’s go-ahead single.
Stone Bridge threatened in the bottom of the sixth with a hit and a walk, but Finucane fanned three consecutive Bulldogs to exstinguish the rally.
Finucane stranded eight Stone Bridge batters.
“Getting out of jams was definitely a big thing for me and kind of boosted up my confidence,” she said.
For the first five innings, Stone Bridge matched O’Connell step for step. Senior pitcher Kelly McDaniel went 2 for 3 while pitching a complete game without walking a batter.
Freshman utility player Olivia Sappington’s double and senior shortstop Niki Prince’s walk put two runners on base for the Bulldogs in the fifth inning, but Finucane struck out two ensuing batters to end the inning in her ninth shutout in 10 starts.
“We played hard,” Stone Bridge Coach Billy Rice said. “We don’t see that kind of pitching, and we attacked her. We made her work, and I was proud of that.
“They got to us when they needed to.”
The game marked only the second meeting between the two schools, and the first win for O’Connell. Orndorff said he called Rice to schedule a game after watching the Bulldogs in the Virginia AAA state playoffs last year.
“They’re legit,” he said. “We like to play the best people.”