Blair softball used to be a lot more superstitious. In its last trip to the state tournament, when senior pitcher Annie Pietanza was a freshman, the team made sure to wear the spandex and socks with its uniform throughout playoffs. The Blazers played the same music before each game and did the same cheer at the same time during each game.
Four years later, the Blazers are undefeated (14-0) and facing one of their hardest weeks of the spring as the season comes to an end. They’ll play Blake (9-2) and No. 1 Sherwood (12-0) during a three-day span that begins Thursday. A schoolwide pep rally is conveniently planned for Friday afternoon, which will bring even more hype to the game against the Warriors Saturday afternoon.
This year’s squad relies more on skill than superstition, Pietanza said.
“We believe in ourselves enough we don’t have to rely on a tradition or a superstition to keep us playing hard and win games,” she said. “We’ve got enough trust in each other and confidence that we don’t need to rely on something.”
Coach Louis Hoelman said this is the most tight knit team he’s seen in his 14 years as head coach. His players’ belief in each other and their ability to feed off one another reminds him of the 2011 squad of Pietanza’s freshman year, which beat Sherwood in the 4A West region final. The Warriors have not lost since.
Pietanza has pitched in 12 of the Blazers’ 14 wins and has 97 strikeouts this season, a 1.42 ERA and is batting .421 with 12 RBI. Michelle McGhee, who made the switch from second base to shortstop this season, has 18 RBI and is hitting .500 in a breakout season at her new position. Briana Villa has 20 RBI and a .447 average.
McGhee, a three-year varsity player, said the 2011 team is known as “the year that we should live up to.” As those players have moved on and graduated, Blair relieved some of the pressure to emulate the school’s last state tournament team and made way for a new dynamic.
“There are people from all over the school on this team, no particular friend group or clique,” McGhee said. “This is probably the most diverse team at Blair.”
The 2014 squad is distinguishing itself as one that does well in tough situations — including a 2-0 win against Northwest and an 11-6 victory over Clarksburg.
“We have a lot of traditions which we really like, but it is a little bit overwhelming when first starting to understand the superstitions and this is how we do things,” McGhee said of practices like making sure you don’t pick up someone’s helmet before they’re on base. “We still do most of the things, but we focus on the next game. The overall mindset is more relaxed.”
After Woodgrove fell to Cave Spring in last season’s Virginia AA championship, the Wolverines watched two of their top run producers — All-Met outfielder Ashley Cole and Mackenzie Moler — graduate. The void left behind would force many teams to rebuild. Instead, the Wolverines have reloaded.
Woodgrove added players from a junior varsity team that hasn’t lost a game in three years, and this year’s varsity contingent is led by senior catcher Rachel Harris.
A member of three straight state final teams, Harris is hoping her team can harness the momentum that carried them to the 2012 championship. Last spring, the Wolverines averaged 9.7 runs per game, but only managed three in their state final loss.
“That loss was definitely a big factor in how we’ve played this year,” Harris said. “I think I put a lot more pressure on myself this year because of how the season ended.”
Harris has knocked in 15 runs this season for a Wolverines offense that is averaging 12.6 runs per game. Coach Joe Spicer attributed his squad’s consistency at the plate to hitting coach Jim Daughtry. His daughter, sophomore Hallie Daughtry, leads the team in RBI with 17.
“I don’t think we do anything special,” Spicer said. “I hate to think anybody spends more time than we do hitting in the cages and hitting on field. Our strength is hitting and we play to that.”
Woodgrove (11-1) spends about 60 percent of its practice sessions working on hitting, and this season, the Wolverines already boast seven players with double-digit RBI totals.
But they haven’t needed the run output thus far with a pitching staff that’s allowed 1.5 runs per game. Senior Jazmyn Rohrer (195 strikeouts in 2013) battled tendinitis to start the season and recently got back to full health. She boasts a team-high 38 strikeouts. With Rohrer working her way back to full health,senior Corrine Vennitti (31 strikeouts) and junior Taylor Kilgour (27) have given the Wolverines a strong and deep rotation.
“With the amount of games that are getting rescheduled, having a deep group of pitchers gives us an advantage,” Spicer said.
Harris and the four other seniors have nine regular season games remaining before the four-year old school sets its eyes on a shot on an unprecedented fourth straight state final appearance — this time in Class 4A.
Sherwood held off Blake, 4-1, and blanked Poolesville, 15-0. The Warriors have allowed five runs this season. . . . South County handed Conference 7 rival Lake Braddock its first loss of the season in a 13-inning, 1-0 thriller last week. . . . Northern blanked Westlake and Patuxent by a combined score of 20-0 . . . . Paul VI took hold of first place in the WCAC after then No. 4 St. Mary’s Ryken lost to O’Connell 6-4 on Monday. . . . Battlefield continued to pile up the runs with 17 and 19 run games in two wins last week. . . Chopticon has not lost since April 1 and Andrea Davis has 87 strikeouts in 13 games.
1. Sherwood 12-0 LW: 1
2. South County 12-1 LW: 3
3. Lake Braddock 13-1 LW: 2
4. Northern 15-2 LW: 5
5. Paul VI 17-1 LW: 8
6. Battlefield 9-0 LW: 7
7. Madison 12-2 LW: 6
8. St. Mary’s Ryken 15-3 LW: 4
9. McLean 10-2 LW: 9
10. Chopticon 14-1 LW: 10
Records through Tuesday