By Josh Michael - firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- Mary Wakeman hit a sharp ground ball deep in the hole at shortstop and beat out the throw to push across the game winning run in the eighth inning to lead Central to a 1-0 victory over Warren County and a berth into the Conference 28 Championship game and into the Regional 3A West Tournament. The Falcons will host Loudoun Valley, a 5-3 winner over Skyline, in Friday's Conference 28 final.
Wakeman came to the plate with runners on second and third with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning and delivered the hit the Falcons had been looking for.
"Absolutely nothing actually," said Wakeman when asked what was going through her mind at the plate. "I think I was more focused on my jitters, and I think they got the best of me, but whatever works, I guess."
Central got the rally started when Kylie Stottlemyer drew a full count walk with one out and was followed by Morgan Davis, who laid down a perfect bunt for a base hit to put runners on first and second with one out. Brooke Sager then laid down a sacrifice bunt to set the stage for Wakeman.
"We have been practicing bunts, and our short game. We haven't played since last Wednesday, and I told them we would need to do that to get runners around," said Central coach Lisa Rhodes.
It appeared as though Warren County was going to take the lead in the top half of the eighth when Brittany Williamson led off the inning with a double and was followed by an Anneslee Cockrell single to put runners on the corners with no outs. Central right fielder Tatyana Anderson proceeded to make a nice play on a line drive to hold the runners at the corners with one out and Falcons pitcher Bekah Ansbro did the rest by striking out the next batter and inducing a soft line drive to the shortstop to get out of the jam.
Anderson's defense played a key role and it was not just her play in the eighth, but her catch in the second inning ended up changing the whole complexion of the game. With one out and a runner on second, Wildcats shortstop Arianna Smoot smoked a line drive into right centerfield, but Anderson made a tremendous running catch to save a run.
"She's gotten so confident in herself, and it's a good, solid confidence, and I am very comfortable with her out there and her teammates are comfortable too," said Rhodes of Anderson.
The Wildcats had multiple opportunities to scratch a run across as they put a runner in scoring position in four different innings, but just couldn't come up with the key hit.
"We knew [Ansbro] was a good pitcher, and we knew we had to string together two or three hits, but you have to give them credit defensively," said Wildcats coach Justin Stock.
The game was the very definition of a pitcher's duel. Wildcats pitcher Paige McLachlan was dominant through the first seven innings of the game as she allowed just two hits over that span and allowed just one runner to reach second base. She finished the game allowing just four hits, one run and struck out five.
"[McLachlan] made us work, she's always given us a run for our money, she's really solid out there, we knew we would have to bring our 'A' game" said Rhodes of McLachlan.
Central's Ansbro was just one run better as she tossed an eight-inning shutout, while allowing six hits and striking out seven.
The loss ended the Wildcats season and they will be saying goodbye to three seniors.
"We go back to my first year and we were 0-20, and these kids put in the effort and enjoyed some winning seasons the past couple of years," said Stock. "They've done a great job the last five years from eighth grade up and helping the transition from where we were to where we are now."