Central loses state title game
RADFORD – It was a classic softball match-up between two teams seeking the first state championship trophy in their programs’ histories, a marathon of a game that needed 16 innings to determine a victor.
Lebanon had its chances early in extra innings. Central couldn’t capitalize on its own opportunities with runners on base as the game slogged on in the midday heat Saturday at Radford University.
In the bottom of the 16th, the Pioneers finally found the clutch hit that neither team could seem to grasp since Lebanon tied the game in the sixth inning. With two outs, Lebanon senior Taylor Woodlief connected for a walk-off home run, sending Central’s historical playoff run to a heartbreaking ending in a 2-1 loss in the Group 2A state championship game.
Lebanon head coach Shelia Adams said she was told the game was the longest softball state title game in the history of the Virginia High School League.
“It was on the edge of the table and it could’ve fallen either way at any point,” said Falcons head coach Lisa Rhodes. “It was just great. It was a great game.”
Woodlief’s heroics came following a stretch that saw Central (22-5) leave at least one runner on base in five of the final six innings. Falcons standout pitcher Bekah Ansbro had stymied Lebanon (19-8) at the plate in the latter half of the game before Woodlief jumped on an 0-2 offering and snuck the ball over the fence in the left-center.
Woodlief accounted for five of the Pioneers’ nine hits and drove in both of Lebanon’s runs.
“I hit my spot, I just didn’t spin the ball well enough and she just got a hold of it,” said Ansbro, who pitched the entire game for the Falcons, as did Lebanon freshman Morgan Hamm.
“As soon as she hit it I just kind of dropped my glove because I knew she had hit that one really well.”
The home run was just the second hit for Lebanon over the final seven innings, as Ansbro appeared largely unaffected by a rising pitch count and temperatures that approached 95 degrees by game’s end.
“Around the ninth inning someone had asked what the longest I’ve gone is, and I said 10, but I’ll go to 100 if we need to,” Ansbro said.
After escaping a jam by stranding the potential winning run at third in the bottom of the ninth inning, Ansbro proceeded to retire 21 of the next 22 batters she faced, the lone hit in that span coming on Woodlief’s leadoff single in the 14th.
Ansbro (19-5), a George Mason University commit, ended her final high school game with 19 strikeouts in 15.2 innings and didn’t issue a single walk. She threw over 200 pitches in the loss but said she didn’t feel herself wearing down.
“I knew that no matter how many innings we went that she was gonna see us through every single one and she was not gonna give up,” Rhodes said. “And she didn’t.
“At one point I told her if your body starts to give out you’ve just gotta focus on your mechanics. It’s mechanics, it’s not overpowering at this point. You’ve just gotta focus on your mechanics, your spins, your stride. She kept us in it the entire game.”
The Falcons, who had 10 hits off Hamm, provided their senior star with a one-run lead in the top of the fourth inning. Central freshman Alex Mantz started the two-out rally with a double to right-center, and sophomore Darden Lear drove her home with her own lining double down the left-field line.
“I think that we’re the type of team that when we get behind it’s a lot harder,” Lear said, “so when we had that one run … it’s not that it made us comfortable that we could lay off of them, but it made us not be so stressed out. We weren’t nervous after that inning, I think.”
That 1-0 lead would hold until the sixth inning, when Lebanon used its own sequence of back-to-back doubles by Monica Parrott and Woodlief at the top of the order to tie the game. The Pioneers went on to strand the winning run in scoring position in four straight innings.
Central experienced its own offensive inefficiencies with runners on base later in the game. The Falcons left 12 runners on base – including eight in scoring position – in the loss, and couldn’t capitalize despite leadoff singles in the 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th innings.
Hamm struck out 12 for Lebanon.
“I think everybody was just getting tired,” said Mantz, who was 3-for-7 at the plate, the only Falcon to record multiple hits. “They were up at the plate and they were just either swinging at everything or watching everything. I think we started losing focus at the plate going throughout the game.”
Saturday marked Central’s first softball state championship game appearance. Prior to this season, the Falcons had never won a regional tournament game.
“We threw all our tricks out there,” Rhodes said. “We gave it everything we had and it had two ways to fall. They were a great team. They played hard. They fought.”
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org