By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL -- With the loss of sluggers Sabrie Neeb and Taylor Henry to graduation, Skyline softball coach Frank Nelson has been preaching to his team all season the importance of being patient at the plate.
Last week in a 7-5 win over Northwestern District rival Sherando, Skyline senior Allison Funk listened to Nelson's advice and used it to lead her team to a big district win.
"She's learning how to be patient at the plate," Nelson said of Funk. "Not everything has to be a home run. A walk or a line drive can be just as good -- make the pitcher work. She's finally understanding that."
Funk did have a home run in the win, but also had a two-strike, two-out, two-run game-winning single in the of the seventh. Funk is The Northern Virginia Daily's Female Prep Athlete of the Week for March 24-March 30.
In the second inning, Funk led off with her first high school home run to tie the game.
Hitting a home run at Sherando is a little different this year. Since the fence is so far back, the school has placed a line deep in the outfield which signifies an imaginary fence and any ball hit over that is a home run, and a ball that bounces past the line is a ground-rule double.
"The real fence is like 400 feet out there, so I just aimed for that fence and it ended up being a home run," Funk said. "It felt really good because it's my senior year, so I really wanted to make this year is really good.
"It felt good to hit a home run in one of the most important games of the season."
Hitting the home run was certainly special for Funk, but that it happened in the top of the seventh was even better.
The Hawks trailed 5-4 entering the top of the seventh. With two outs and two strikes on Skyline's Emily Ritter, the senior hit a ground-rule double to tie the game. That put runners on second and third and brought up Funk.
She worked Sherando pitcher Courtney Reid to a full count and then got the pitch she wanted.
"I took a few strikes there," Funk said. "I was waiting for the right pitch and I saw that it was an outside pitch, and I knew that I hit the outside pitches really well. So when I saw that one, I knew I had to swing at it."
She drilled a liner that landed just inside the first-base line for the game-winning single. Funk said she was a little worried whether it was going to stay fair.
"I saw it and I was like, 'Oh, please stay in, please stay in,'" Funk said. "And it ended up staying in, so that was really good."
The win was a big one for the Hawks, who won the district title last year. Funk said Sherando is always one of their biggest rivals, so rallying to beat them was even sweeter.
"We were down at the beginning of the seventh, so it felt really good to come back and show them that we're tough competitors again," Funk said. "I think us getting that first win against Sherando was really good for our self-esteem. We lost a lot of players last year, and we have new people in new spots and everyone is stepping up really well this year."
Nelson said Funk is one of the players who is stepping up this season, and he thinks she has a lot of potential.
"I think when she realizes her ability and embraces it -- I think she's got a good season coming up for us this year," Nelson said. "I wish we could have a whole team of Allisons -- I really do."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org