By Robert Edmonds - firstname.lastname@example.org
WARRENTON -- The first Evergreen District softball tournament was certainly a memorable one and if it is a sign of the future, the district will have fierce competition for some time to come.
Thursday night's championship game punctuated the point by providing a thrilling battle that went down to the very last pitch. With sophomores Nicole King pitching for Warren County and Sarah Kleinfelter on the hill for Fauquier, it was expected to be a gem. Neither team disappointed defensively as all three of the game's runs were unearned in the Falcons' 2-1 victory.
It was the Falcons who held the championship trophy high at the end of the night as they scored two runs off wild pitches in the final inning to win and ruin an otherwise spectacular pitching performance by King.
"We knew this was going to be a tough battle from both teams," Fauquier coach Mark Ott said. "We had our ace on the mound and Nicole [King] is a first-class pitcher."
Trailing 1-0 to start the bottom half of the seventh, the Falcons knew they couldn't wait any longer to get on the scoreboard. Erica Kondzielawa opened the inning by reaching base on a single to left field. The next batter, Kleinfelter, hit a short infield hit that was fielded by Brianna Caison. Caison's throw to first base went off the outreached glove of Sydney Anderson, allowing the runners to advance to second and third.
Looking to close out the game in a pressure situation, King struck out the next batter and retired Kelsey Rice when Caison made a spectacular diving catch on the third-base line to record the second out. With two runners on and two outs, the Wildcats looked to use strategy by walking Kristine Chipman to load the bases and give them a force at any base.
"We knew we had a chance when we got runners on second and third," Kleinfelter said. "We had that out, but then they walked the batter and when the pitch was overthrown it was just a race to get there."
Unfortunately, Warren never had an opportunity to let the move play out. Facing Justina Augustine, King threw a wild pitch that rolled to the backstop and allowed Kondzielawa to slide under a late tag and tie the game. Just moments later, another King pitch went wild, allowing Kaleigh Smith to score and end the game.
"I am speechless right now," Justin Stock said. "You have to give a lot of credit to them. Nicole [King] only had eight strikeouts tonight, which is a season low. They put the ball in play and used the bunt as a weapon, and we just had one bad inning that cost us the game."
Warren County had taken the lead in the sixth inning when courtesy runner Sara Flouhouse scored on a wild pitch by Kleinfelter. But a play that unraveled the fate of Warren may have come one inning earlier.
In the top of the fifth, with Paige Partlowe on first, King hit a drive over the center fielder's head for a double. After fielding the ball on the warning track, the Falcons' outfielder delivered a bullet that was cut off by the third baseman, who threw out Partlowe on the relay throw to the plate and kept the game scoreless.
"It definitely helps to know that I have a good defense that is ready to back me up," Kleinfelter said. "We have one of the better defenses and we had some good plays tonight. Erica [Kondzielawa] really made a big play to save my butt tonight."
"We executed very well on defense," Ott said. "We are a defensive team. We don't score a lot of runs and we don't score too many early, but we are determined and the girls play with a passion and that came through tonight."
With the win, Fauquier advances to begin regional play on Monday while the Wildcats try to let the pain sink in after a heartbreaking end to their season. Warren, however, has much to be excited about after just two seasons ago when the team went winless; they were competing for a district title.
"We had a great season and it's good to know we have a lot of young players coming back," Stock said. "Nicole [King] had such a great season and Taylor [Bass] played excellent this year. This is going to hurt for a while, but it was definitely a learning experience. Overall, I am pretty pleased with the improvement we have shown."