Warren County’s softball team tried three times, without luck, to play its district contest against Brentsville this week, but postponements aside, the Wildcats have enjoyed an ideal start to the 2021 season.
Entering Friday’s scheduled home game against Manassas Park, the Wildcats were 3-0 on the young season after picking up wins over William Monroe, Culpeper County and Central last week.
Head coach Ted McDaniel said on Thursday evening, after his team’s home game against Brentsville was postponed for a third straight day when the umpires failed to show, that he felt “great” about the Wildcats’ start, noting he’s been especially pleased with the performance of a pair of young pitchers.
Freshman Olivia Kelly and sophomore Jamie Kelly (no relation) had each thrown 10 innings for Warren County through the first three games and combined to allow just two earned runs, 10 hits and 13 walks while striking out 23 in that span.
Olivia Kelly has made two starts for the Wildcats and tossed six scoreless innings in an 8-2 win over Monroe in the opener on April 26, and she has yet to allow an earned run this spring. Jamie Kelly gave up two earned runs in an inning of relief against Monroe but rebounded to throw a six-inning shutout against Culpeper — during which she allowed just two hits, struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter — and tossed three hitless innings of scoreless relief against Central.
“They’re really good at working together,” McDaniel said of his two pitchers. “What’s especially nice is prior to this season neither of them had thrown a pitch at the varsity level. In fact, Jamie had only pitched as an eighth-grader on the JV (team) and Olivia had never pitched up here because she was an eighth-grader last year and her season got canceled because of COVID.”
Warren County has also been getting it done defensively — the Wildcats had committed just three errors in their first three games — and at the plate, where junior Karleigh Crabill (three home runs, seven RBIs entering Friday) and senior Hailey Stiltner (grand slam, nine RBIs) have led an offense that produced 24 runs in a productive opening week.
“We’ve had really good hitting, timely hitting,” McDaniel said. “... We’ve really been really good with our small game, our short game, and stealing bases. We’ve utilized our speed and we’ve had a lot of success with it. This start is as good as I could ever have hoped for.”
McDaniel, who led the Wildcats to the Class 3 state semifinals two years ago, said cross-town rival Skyline, which also entered Friday unbeaten, was the team to beat in the Class 3 Northwestern District and added that Central likely has the top two pitchers in the district, Monroe is traditionally tough and Brentsville, though 1-2 to start the season, “might surprise some people.”
“Who knows what’s coming down the road toward us,” McDaniel said. “We know we’ve got to play extremely hard. … I think we’ve put a pretty solid team on the field defensively, we hit the ball fairly well, but we will live and die with our pitching and so far they’ve been really good. But they’re young, and we’ll just have to see how they continue to progress and continue to perform. That’s pretty much what it comes down to.”
SHERANDO SLUGGERS: Sherando is also off to a flawless start this spring after picking up a 7-6 win over Frederick County rival James Wood on Thursday. After mustering just two hits in a season-opening 3-0 win over Millbrook, the Warriors have found their trademark pop at the plate in their last three outings.
Sherando’s Meghan Harris and Madison Harris (no relation) combined for three home runs in a 13-hit effort against Liberty on April 29, and on Tuesday Madison Harris hit her second homer of the season as part of a 16-hit outing for the Warriors against Culpeper.
The Warriors bashed three more homers against Wood — Madison Harris and Meghan Harris again went deep, the latter going back-to-back with Santanna Pullen in the sixth inning to tie the game at 6-all — to bring their total to seven in their first four games.
Sherando head coach Clarence Smith said earlier this week that the Warriors’ offensive struggles in the opener had a lot to do with the pitching of Millbrook sophomore Emily Jeffries. Smith added that the Warriors, many of which were playing their first varsity game, also might’ve been feeling some first-game jitters in that April 28 contest.
“By the time we headed up to Liberty the next night,” Smith said on Wednesday, “our kids felt a little bit more comfortable and a little bit more aggressive within the strike zone.
“The top of the order has been very effective so far this season,” he added, “and hopefully that continues.”
Smith noted that entering the season, the Warriors — who don’t have any seniors on their roster — had only two players (Isabel Hall and Emma Chunta) who had playing experience at the varsity level.
“The good news out of that is there’s plenty of opportunity for kids to step into roles and earn their playing time and their opportunities,” Smith said, adding that Sherando was able to get most of its players multiple chances to log some playing time in the first three games and that “kids are starting to play themselves into positions.”
SLOW START: Stonewall Jackson and Strasburg each opened their seasons with losses on April 27 and, because of poor weather that wiped out their scheduled head-to-head meeting on Tuesday, both endured extended layoffs between games.
Stonewall coach Ashley Nicholson, who took over the program last year and coached the Generals through one scrimmage before the season was shut down due to the pandemic, wrote in an email on Thursday that she was happy to have had the chance to at least play a game this spring. Nicholson added that the long layoff between games (Stonewall and Strasburg were both slated to return to action Friday) in what is already a condensed season does pose a challenge, particularly for a Stonewall team with just one senior.
“Certain situations arise in games that you just cannot replicate as well in practices,” Nicholson wrote. “We are a very young team, so this is a very important time in our growth and development to start to really learn the game and the speed of high school level ball.”
Strasburg coach Suzanne Mathias-Carter agreed that the extended break between games has been tough.
“The long lay off makes it hard for the girls to see what strides they have made in practice and that it is paying off,” Mathias-Carter wrote in an email on Friday morning. “The girls want to play games instead of practicing for two weeks. Games are always better than practices in their minds.”
Mathias-Carter added that she feels the Rams have “a lot of talent in all areas” and boast four capable pitchers.
Nicholson, whose team fell to Page County, 14-0, last week, noted that she’s been “very impressed” with her team on the field so far, despite the limited opportunities.
“With all the curveballs that have been thrown at them these past two years they are still out there every day working hard,” Nicholson wrote. “I have seen improvement in each and every player. We had a very tough matchup in our one game that we have played so far this year, so I am looking forward to seeing matchups with other teams in the area. I believe that this program has a very bright future.”