Falcons set to take on Glenvar in state semifinals

Central's softball team celebrates after a win against Skyline earlier this season. The Falcons take on Glenvar in the Group 2A state semifinals on Friday in Salem. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Central High School’s softball team knows very little about Glenvar, the Falcons’ opponent in Friday’s 1 p.m. Group 2A state semifinal game at the Moyer Complex in Salem.

Part of that lack of knowledge is a byproduct of head coach Lisa Rhodes’ lack of connections in the Roanoke area. Mostly it’s by design, Rhodes’ effort to keep the Falcons mentally balanced.

“I don’t wanna psych them out,” Rhodes said Wednesday. “… We’re in our gear and we’re showing up and playing ball, and it’s working for us.”

Instead of focusing on the Highlanders, this year’s Region 2A West champion, the Falcons are keeping their eyes turned inward. It’s an approach Central has used all spring, and one that has worked quite well during the Falcons’ most successful softball season in the program’s history.

“Honestly just focusing on ourselves … is gonna do more good for us than coming in with a three-page scouting report on them,” Falcons senior pitcher Bekah Ansbro said.

Central (21-4) enters the state semifinal game coming off a 4-0 loss to Page County in last week’s Region 2A East tournament championship. Glenvar was a 5-0 winner over Lebanon in the west regional after a pair of walk-off wins in its first two regional games. It was Glenvar’s first regional championship since 2009.

The Highlanders (20-5) are seeking their 10th state championship game appearance and the program’s first since making three straight Group A state championship showings from 2007 to 2009, several years prior to the Virginia High School League’s realignment. Glenvar has won five softball state championships – tied for second-most in VHSL history – with the last coming in 1997.

Central, meanwhile, had never won a regional tournament game prior to this season and is making its first state tournament appearance.

“We have a really positive attitude about all of it because we know we deserve this,” Falcons junior outfielder Erika Thorpe said, “and we’ve come this far and we don’t want it to go downhill from here. We’ve really prepared ourselves, working hard at practice, and just working extra hard in the batting cage hitting and doing extra stations, just knowing what we need to work on to win.”

Pitching has carried the Falcons this spring, as Ansbro – a four-year varsity starter and George Mason University commit – sports a record of 18-4 with a 0.69 ERA and 266 strikeouts in 155.2 innings in the circle. The senior right-hander is allowing just 3.4 hits per game and has walked 10 batters, while Central has allowed only 29 runs in 25 games.

Glenvar is averaging just less than nine runs per game and has scored 12 or more runs nine times this season.

Ansbro’s success and a solid Central defense has helped counterbalance a Falcon offense that has been light on run production this spring. The Falcons are averaging 5.2 runs per game, a number bolstered by wins of 11-0, 27-1 and 17-1 over struggling 1A programs Stonewall Jackson and Rappahannock County.

The Falcons have three players batting over .300 – Ansbro (.393, two home runs, 15 RBIs, 21 runs), sophomore first baseman Kristina Stead (.351, home run, 18 runs scored) and Thorpe (.312) – and are hitting .265 as a team.

Central has scored just 10 runs in five playoff games.

“The one thing I’m just walking into as a coach is just knowing that I’ve got a pitcher that can keep them off-balance and keep them off base, and we’ve got a defense behind her that can keep them off base,” Rhodes said.

“The last couple weeks our defense has really kicked it up a notch. I have seen some really remarkable plays. I mean, (shortstop Shennan Waldron) has dug stuff out, Kristina is digging balls out of the dirt and they’re just answering. They’re gelling behind their pitcher and they’re giving her what she needs on defense. So maintaining that, and then also just, we’ve been able to execute the short game to get a couple runs around, for the most part, so being able to utilize that to our advantage is important too.”

Page County will take on Lebanon in the other 2A state semifinal game Friday, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. The Group 2A state championship game is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at Radford University.

Ansbro said that no matter the outcome, Friday promises to be an emotional day for the Falcons.

“We’ve all established that either way we’re gonna cry, so hopefully it’s just happy tears at the end,” said Ansbro, one of two Central seniors alongside Dana Painter. “We’re really proud of what we’ve done this season and we just wanna go out there and have a lot of fun and play our best.”

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