By Jeff Nations
Warren County High School's Paige McLachlan slogged through the mud out to the pitching circle to start the bottom of the sixth inning against arch-rival Skyline last Thursday.
Eight times, McLachlan delivered a pitch to the plate. Eight times, she missed the strike zone. But with two runners with no outs and the Hawks threatening to rally, McLachlan did what she's done so many times for the Wildcats. She struck out the next two batters, then induced an infield pop-up and slipped away unscathed as Warren County eventually picked up the 7-3 victory.
"She gives up base runners, but she usually finds a way to get out of innings," Warren County coach Justin Stock said. "She's good at dealing with adversity and getting out of trouble."
McLachlan made trouble for plenty of opponents last week, at the plate and on the pitching rubber. The junior led the Wildcats to three wins and earned The Northern Virginia Daily's Female Athlete of the Week honor for April 7-April 13.
"She's one of those kids who never complains, always does what you ask her to do," Stock said. "She's stepped into a leadership role for us this year."
McLachlan definitely led Warren County against Bull Run District rival William Monroe last week. Leading off the top of the sixth inning in a scoreless game, McLachlan broke up the shutout with a solo home run with an opposite-field shot.
"After that, everybody started hitting like crazy," McLachlan said. "It was pretty exciting."
McLachlan's blast jump-started a three-run rally by the Wildcats, who really broke loose the next inning by plating 11 more runs in an eventual 14-2 win. McLachlan was a big part of that seventh-inning rally, as well, adding another home run.
"She hit one of the farthest balls I've seen a high school girl hit," Stock said. "It was a good 80 to 90 feet over the fence.
"She's got a chance to hit a couple more this year. I talked to her in practice the other day about focusing on hitting the ball hard."
McLachlan finished the game against the Dragons with two home runs, a double and five RBIs. She also pitched all seven innings for the win, allowing five hits and a pair of walks while striking out 10 batters.
McLachlan came up large again just two days later for the short-handed Wildcats, down four seniors due to a school trip. Facing district rival George Mason at home, McLachlan dominated to the tune of a 14-strikeout performance as Warren County picked up a 4-2 victory. McLachlan added a 3-for-3 night at the plate with two RBIs.
There was little time to celebrate that win, not with cross-town rival Skyline on the schedule the following night. McLachlan got the start, of course, and proceeded to settle the score with the Hawks by helping the Wildcats even the season series with a 7-3 victory.
"Playing Skyline is always really exciting," McLachlan said. "You get to play your cross-town rivals. It was kind of tough playing in the rain and it was all muddy and wet, but we were able to push through it."
With another complete-game effort, McLachlan was a big reason why the Wildcats got that win. She allowed just two hits and an earned run with three walks and six strikeouts, and added an RBI for Warren County.
For the season, McLachlan is 4-2 with a 2.00 ERA in 42 innings with 51 strikeouts. Opponents are batting just .219 against her. At the plate, McLachlan is batting .429 with two homers, a double and nine RBIs.
Stock expects McLachlan to break a school record this year, too -- career hit-by-pitch.
"When I hit I crowd the plate a lot," McLachlan said. "Pitchers like to throw me inside just to see if I can hit it.
"It's definitely not one of the most important records to get, but I look at it as a hit-by-pitch gets you on base."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>