O’Connell racked up the strikeouts while McLean’s defense put on a clinic handling groundballs. After a full seven innings, neither team had sent a runner around third base.
Then the scoreboard flipped to extra innings, the dugouts’ chants hit peak volume and Patty Maye Ohanian found her comfort zone at the plate. In the top of the eighth, the senior smacked a groundball into left field and O’Connell Coach Tommy Orndorf finally sent a runner home.
The throw was in time, but senior Leah Hammes skipped around McLean catcher Gracen Govan to touch home plate. By mere inches and seconds, the visiting No. 2 Knights topped No. 7 McLean, 1-0, on Saturday afternoon.
“Rounding third, I had no idea where the ball was, then I saw it skip past me to the catcher, and I was just thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, what do I do?’ ” Hammes said. “But the throw was just a little off, and I went past her. Such a great feeling to touch home.”
Ohanian said she remembers playing tense in a win over McLean as a sophomore and last season’s 1-0 loss to the Highlanders. As a senior in the annual showdown of private and public school powers, experience brought relaxation as the Virginia commit came up with two of the Knights’ four hits.
“I pitched in this game as a sophomore and batted last year, but I remember being caught up in the fans, and the pressure, and playing people we know,” said Ohanian, who plays club softball with McLean starting pitcher Julia Longo. “But this year, I just felt like we were here to win. We’re seasoned veterans now with a little more confidence than before.”
After being spotted the game’s only run, O’Connell (9-0) pitcher Kathryn Sandercock shut the door with her 16th strikeout of the game. In 50 innings this spring, the junior James Madison commit has struck out 104 batters and allowed one run.
For McLean (4-1), Longo employed a much different strategy in the circle but found similar success producing outs. Without the intimidating height and pitching velocity of Sandercock, the junior picked her spots to induce 13 groundball outs.
“I pitch to contact. If I could strike out everyone like Kathryn, that’d be a huge plus, but I put a lot of trust in the defense behind me,” Longo said. “I just paint the corners. I rely on my movement, and today all my pitches were working.”
McLean came close to scoring with runners on second and third with one out in the second inning before Sandercock struck out back-to-back batters. O’Connell also pushed a runner to third with two outs in the fourth inning, but Longo came up with one of her six strikeouts.
Both teams enjoyed the intensity of a close game in a budding rivalry.
“I love this type of game. In the dugout, our energy was crazy,” Hammes said. “When you’re blowing somebody out, it’s hard to stay pumped, so we really live for games like this.”