FRONT ROYAL — Skyline’s goal from the start of the season has been clear — get back to the state tournament and take it a few steps further.
The Hawks will try to accomplish that today when they take on Turner Ashby in the Class 3 softball state semifinals at 9 a.m., at Moyer Complex in Salem.
Last year the Hawks lost in the state semifinals. Skyline senior catcher Rachel Sirbaugh said making it back to the state semis in her senior year is special.
“It’s very exciting, especially senior year,” Sirbaugh said before Monday’s practice. “We got to the semis last year and got knocked out. Our goal this year is to go further, which is championship game and eventually just win the whole thing.”
The Hawks (18-6) were supposed to play Turner Ashby last week, but the state tournament was pushed back to this week due to heavy rain in Salem.
Skyline coach John Ritter said he felt like his team has handled the delay well.
“It’s been not too bad,” Ritter said. “You got to make sure that you keep ‘em focused, keep ‘em sharp. It’s hard to take a week off but everybody’s in the same boat. It hasn’t been that bad. Their mindset’s been pretty good and they’ve been staying pretty focused and hopefully it’s a good thing.”
The Hawks are coming off of a 4-2, 8-inning victory over New Kent on June 4 in the state quarterfinals.
One of the heroes of the game was junior Olivia Heflin, who had an RBI double to give the Hawks an early lead. Heflin is the team’s No. 7 hitter in the lineup.
“Grace (Benson) had a double and then I just followed her up with another double,” Heflin said. “We got that first run on the board, which felt good. We felt good after that. Everyone was starting to relax and play.”
New Kent tied the game at 1-1 in the fifth. The Hawks showed their composure as they got out of a jam in the seventh and then scored three runs aided by two errors in the top of the eighth.
“The defense has been good the whole year, but especially against New Kent,” Skyline junior pitcher Emma Benson said. “Lexi Clatterbuck, she really had a good game at short that game. It was just a team effort that game.”
Emma Benson has taken the place of 2018 Skyline graduate Tamara Grayson in the pitching circle. Emma Benson had limited pitching experience before this season, but said she’s getting more and more comfortable in her new role.
“It’s such a different role since last year I was at short and then this year having to step up and be a pitcher,” Emma Benson said. “But our defense is good behind us. Before every game I’m really nervous, but after the first inning I’m like ‘we’re good.’”
Emma Benson has a 3.79 ERA, but Ritter said she has pitched much better lately.
“Emma (Benson) has pitched well, probably the last eight to 10 games,” Ritter said. “She’s really picked it up. That’s good for us. She pitched a gem (against New Kent). She kept them at bay. They had some good hitters and she got them to hit her pitch. And that’s her thing.”
Turner Ashby (22-4) is led by senior pitcher Makayla Cyzick, who struck out 15 in the state quarterfinals against Cave Spring. Cyzick, who has signed to play at Winthrop University next year, has 253 strikeouts in 157 innings. Cyzick is batting .468 with six homers and 36 RBIs. Senior catcher Carley Davis, who has signed to play at Elon University next year, is hitting .557 with five homers and 30 RBIs.
Turner Ashby lost to Liberty-Bedford in the Region 3C championship game, but bounced back with the win over Cave Spring to advance to the state semis.
“I know some of the hitters can hit, Emma Benson said of Turner Ashby. “So I’m going to do my best not to give them pitches that they’re going to drive somewhere. But if our defense keeps playing the way that they are we’re going to get it done this year.”
Warren County plays Liberty-Bedford in the other Class 3 state semifinal. A win by both Warren County and Skyline would set up a showdown between the cross-town rivals in the state finals.
Warren County took two of the three games the two have played this season, including the Region 3B final. Sirbaugh said the team would love nothing more than to face their rivals for a state title.
“That would be history, that would be crazy,” Sirbaugh said. “I know a lot of those girls on that team. We’ve all been playing against each other since we were young. For such a small county to have two great teams in the state championship — that would just be amazing.”