GLEN ALLEN, VA. — As O’Connell junior pitcher Maddy Bates stood in the circle with the bases loaded behind her, she felt her nerves flare.
The second-seeded Knights had jumped to a three-run lead against No. 1 Potomac School in the top of the first inning at the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association championship game Friday. But in the bottom of the inning, the Panthers seemed poised to pounce back.
While the Knights entered the tournament as seven-time reigning champions, they also had endured what counts as a down year for their powerhouse softball program, including a loss in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference final 11 days earlier.
“We wanted to prove to everyone what we could do,” Bates said. “So I just thought: I need to get this together. This game is mine.”
Bates delivered, getting a strikeout and a groundout to end the inning.
O’Connell extended its lead with five more runs in the second, and the strong start held up in an emphatic 9-3 win at RF&P Park. The victory gave the Knights their eighth consecutive VISAA title and their 24th in 27 years.
This season was different for the Knights (20-5-1), who lost star pitcher Kathryn Sandercock to graduation and longtime coach Tommy Orndorff to retirement after last year.
“We were doubted a lot,” junior catcher Meadow Sacadura said. “People didn’t really think we were going to get this far. We had to make adjustments, but we proved ourselves. The haters cannot get to us.”
The Knights’ VISAA championship came on the heels of a 9-6 loss in eight innings to St. Mary’s Ryken in the WCAC final. O’Connell had allowed a late comeback in that game.
So even after taking the first-inning lead against Potomac (18-2), the Knights refused to let up. Sophomore Madison Gayle sent a three-run home run sailing over the seven-foot fence 200 feet from home plate to cap the five-run second.
Potomac pitcher Maria Urban settled in after that. The sophomore held O’Connell scoreless through the next four innings and recorded nine strikeouts in the game, and her team got on the board with three runs in the third.
The Knights, though, padded their lead with one more run in the seventh. Kiaris Alvarado-Rojas led off with a single, then Gayle drove her home with a double. Alvarado-Rojas finished with three hits, three runs and two RBI; Gayle finished with three hits and five RBI.
“Our mind-set was we can’t step back,” Gayle said. “We have to keep pushing, keep on adding runs, keep supporting our pitcher all the way until the end.”