Walk-off hit gives Generals victory

QUICKSBURG – Stonewall Jackson freshman Israel Blank admits she wasn’t quite sure what she was witnessing in the moments leading up to her final at-bat in Wednesday’s softball game against visiting Rappahannock County.

The Panthers, clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh, saw Stonewall’s first two batters of the inning reach via walk and chose to intentionally load the bases by walking freshman Kiana Richman, who had already slugged a home run and a double in four previous trips to the plate.

As Richman stood nonchalant in the batters’ box while Rappahannock County’s Sara Frye soft-tossed intentional balls to home plate, Blank turned to Generals coach Sue Rubenstein from the on-deck circle and asked her what was going on. Rubenstein informed Blank, the Generals’ cleanup hitter, that she was about to get a chance with the bases loaded. Then Rubenstein added, “They have no idea you’re the weapon.”

Frye put Blank into an 0-2 hole with strikes on the first two pitches, but Blank jumped on the third offering, sending a sharp grounder up the middle and into the outfield. Stonewall sophomores Juliana Brill and Kelsey Hines raced home uncontested for the tying and winning runs as the Generals walked off with a 12-11 non-conference victory.

“I know I can hit good, I just get really nervous in the game,” said Blank, who was 2-for-3 with two walks and three RBIs. “I was picturing swinging all the way through, line drive, something like that. I was over there batting (on the practice field) before the game and it was pretty good. I just came up, that first (pitch) went by, kind of lowered my self-esteem, and then I was just like, ‘I got this, I got this.’ Then it happened.”

Any win in walk-off fashion would be cause for jubilation, but Blank’s game-winning hit was one the Stonewall Jackson softball program had been awaiting for four years. It gave the Generals their first victory since 2012.

“It means so much,” Blank said. “We really are the underdog school. We don’t win much and when we do it’s pretty big for us.”

Stonewall Jackson (1-3) had to rally to get that elusive victory.

Rappahannock County (0-4) jumped out to an early lead with two runs in the first and built that advantage to 8-3 with three runs each in the third and fourth innings, powered by four RBIs in that span from Madi McClary (2-for-4, double). But just when it looked like the Generals were teetering toward a familiar trend, their bats took off.

Eleven straight Generals reached base safely in the bottom of the fourth inning – with the only out in that span coming when sophomore Hayley Sherrill was ruled to have been hit by Kim Ware-Simmons’ groundball – as Stonewall erupted for seven runs.

Brill drove in the inning’s first run with an RBI single, and Hines followed with a two-run double on a line drive down the left-field line to cut Rappahannock County’s lead to two. Richman then doubled home a run on a fly ball to left-center before tying the game at 8-all when she scored on a wild pitch to Blank.

“I think we came in with a positive attitude and our hits just showed our attitude,” said Richman, who was 2-for-4 with two walks, two RBIs, three runs scored and a solo home run in the first inning.

“We don’t give up. We have a lot heart for the game and we kept fighting until the end.”

Blank worked a walk and sophomores Madison Councill and Savannah Miller singled off Panthers reliever Kayla Robey to load the bases before Sherrill and Ware-Simmons worked back-to-back RBI walks to give Stonewall a 10-8 lead.

The inning finally came to an end when Ashley Cowart drove a line drive that was caught by Panthers second baseman Kayla Brown, who doubled up a runner at second.

“We’ve been practicing a lot on the small game. And really it’s been nothing but hitting two hours a day every day, and it’s starting to make a difference,” said Rubenstein, whose team had nine hits. “Their inexperience on the base paths is what kind of gets us sometimes, so we’re gonna work on that as well.”

Rappahannock County quickly regained the lead with three runs in the top of the fifth, as Robey (2-for-5, three runs) and Cierra Chambers (three runs) had RBI singles, the latter of which was compounded by a Stonewall error that allowed the go-ahead run to score.

Stonewall had another runner get doubled up at second base to end a potential rally in the fifth, and the Generals failed to score after loading the bases with one out in the sixth.

“There were a lot of ‘oops’ moments (on the bases) and they were listening to the other team,” Rubenstein said. “I’m like, ‘I’m over here, listen to me!’ So we’re working on that. They get very excited when they’re running the bases. You can see they don’t get on as often as they should, but they are now.”

Hines, who got hit in the leg on Brianna Settle’s (3-for-4, double) infield single in the first inning, pitched all seven innings for the Generals while allowing eight hits and two walks against four strikeouts. Only three of Hines’ 11 runs allowed were earned, as Stonewall committed six errors.

“The team was just motivated. They let everything go,” Rubenstein said. “They made mistakes – yeah, they did. A couple of errors in the game this time, which we haven’t had too many errors, oddly enough. The other teams are hitting really hard. But this time they regrouped and they kept playing.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com