Falcons top Glenvar in softball state semifinals

SALEM – There were multiple instances during Central High School’s 2-0 win over Glenvar in the Group 2A state softball tournament semifinals on Friday at Moyer Sports Complex that could be called the game’s defining moment.

Perhaps it was the unbreakable poise of senior pitcher Bekah Ansbro, who dug in when she needed to and snuffed out potential Glenvar rallies in three of the first five innings.

Maybe it was Lexi Rau’s run-scoring single in the second inning, which provided the Falcons with all of the run support they would need. It could’ve been Erika Thorpe’s tumbling catch in right field in the fifth, which likely saved a run, or Shennan Waldron’s sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh inning to provide Central with a crucial insurance run.

Or maybe the Falcons’ success was the result of something far simpler.

“We just, we came in and we played intense for seven innings,” Central head coach Lisa Rhodes said.

The Falcons walked into their first state tournament appearance in the program’s history with energy and enthusiasm, and held that for the entirety of their game against the Highlanders. In a season full of firsts for Central, the Falcons walked out one win away from their first state championship, an 11 a.m. match-up with Lebanon for the 2A state crown awaiting them Saturday morning at Radford University.

“I don’t think it’s really soaked in yet,” said Waldron, a junior shortstop. “I can’t even comprehend what’s going on.”

Ansbro, a four-year varsity starter and George Mason University commit, did her best to make the Highlanders feel something similar each time they stepped into the batter’s box Friday afternoon. The senior right-hander struck out 10 while allowing just three hits, and calmly danced away from trouble as Glenvar put a runner in scoring position with no outs in the second, fourth and fifth innings.

Friday marked the first time the Highlanders (20-6) had been shut out this season.

“She just gets so focused,” Rhodes said of Ansbro. “She understands that with a team like this, at the level that we’re at, you’ve got strong sticks coming up. You have to keep it off the plate and you’ve gotta keep them off-balance. And that’s what she did. That’s exactly what she did.”

The Falcons (22-4) rewarded their ace with early run support. Ansbro and freshman Alex Mantz worked back-to-back walks off Glenvar’s O.C. Ward to start the top of the second inning, and both moved into scoring position on Darden Lear’s sacrifice bunt.

With two outs and facing a 1-2 count, Rau floated a looping single down the right-field line that scored Ansbro for a 1-0 lead.

“I try to relax as much as I can,” said Rau, a junior who batted eighth for Central on Friday. “It gets stressful, especially now where you’re winning games by only one run. It’s very helpful to get a hit and then getting that run, it was exciting.”

Glenvar, the Region 2A West champs, threatened to answer immediately in the bottom half of the inning as cleanup hitter Amber Smith led off with a single before courtesy runner Brianna Needham moved up to second on a stolen base with no outs. Ansbro countered by striking out the next three batters, stranding Needham at third.

“I trusted (catcher Kylie Stottlemyer) and all of our defense to be able to throw a girl out if that needed to happen, so I wasn’t worried about the runner too much,” said Ansbro, who improved her season strikeout total to 271 in the win. “I was just worried about keeping the batters off-balance to get them to hit into outs to strand the runners out there.”

Ansbro (19-4) repeated the act in the fourth inning – when Ward reached second with a leadoff bunt single that was compounded by a Central error before being stranded at second – and again in the fifth – with the aid of Thorpe’s grab in right – following Emily Teaford’s leadoff single.

The Highlanders left four runners on base, three in scoring position. Head coach Rick Street said Ansbro is “definitely (one of) the top two or three” best pitchers Glenvar has faced this season.

“She’s dominant in a different way. She doesn’t dominate you with her velocity, but her ability to pitch within the zone, move the ball, change speeds and just spin it,” Street said of Ansbro, who didn’t allow a walk. “It looked like she had a ton of movement on the ball to me.”

Central added an important insurance run in the top of the seventh inning, when Thorpe led off with a single and eventually scored on Waldron’s sacrifice fly to left field.

“To have that second run really eased our nerves,” Waldron said.

Ansbro struck out the side around a Falcons error in the bottom of the seventh to clinch the win, then donned a cap and gown for a makeshift graduation ceremony on the field just minutes after the victory.

“It is a lot to take in,” Ansbro said. “I don’t think it’s really gonna hit me until we’re in our luxurious Super 8 tonight. We’re really excited about that.”

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