FRONT ROYAL – Warren County will see something on Thursday they haven’t seen all season – a left-handed pitcher.
The Wildcats (21-2) play Liberty-Bedford in the Class 3 state semifinals at Moyer Complex in Salem. They will be going up against Liberty-Bedford pitcher Millie Thompson.
“(Thompson) throws the ball pretty hard,” Warren County coach Ted McDaniel said before Monday’s practice. “We haven’t faced a left-hander all year. So that gives me some concern.”
Thompson struck out eight against Turner Ashby in the Region 3C finals on May 30.
Warren County senior Morgan Coons said that the Wildcats’ travel ball experience should help out against Thompson.
“I think we’ll do fine,” Coons said. “In travel, we seem to face a lot more left-handed pitchers than in school ball. All of us have a lot travel experience. So I think we’ll be fine.”
The two teams were supposed to meet last week, but due to the heavy rain in Salem the state tournament was postponed to this week.
McDaniel said that one of the good things about the postponement is Warren County pitcher Elizabeth Keener has more time to rest and get ready for the state semifinals.
Keener has a 1.63 earned run average this season. She has pitched 129 innings and has 169 strikeouts. She missed all of last season in the circle due to a shoulder injury and McDaniel said that coming into this season he wasn’t sure how much she would be able to pitch.
He said that she has started every game but one this season. McDaniel said that they’ve been lucky that they have only had to play on back-to-back days once this season and haven’t had to play four games in a week at all.
“She’s done everything she’s needed to do to strengthen herself and be ready to play,” McDaniel said. “She’s very competitive. She’s got the heart of a lion. She’s just a true competitor.”
One player who is excited that the state tournament got moved back a week is Sabrina Perea. The junior center fielder was out of town last week on a vacation cruise to the Bahamas and thought she was going to have to miss the entire state tournament.
“I was really excited,” Perea said of the postponed tourney. “I thought that my season was going to be over. I was really sad, and then my friend looked on Twitter and she saw it (was postponed) and I got so excited. I was like ‘yes, I’m going to go back and play.’”
Perea did miss Warren County’s 4-0 Class 3 state quarterfinal win over Park View-South Hill but the Wildcats didn’t miss a beat.
Freshman Karleigh Crabill started for Perea and went 2-for-2 with an RBI and scored a run.
Keener said it says a lot about this year’s team that they can have people out of the lineup and have other players step up and be productive.
“In past years when we’ve had people out we didn’t normally have people that step up,” Keener said. “But now this year it seems like almost everybody’s stepping up. It’s really huge that we can do that.”
Coons leads the Wildcats with a .512 batting average (41-for-80), 23 RBIs and 29 runs scored. Senior Jayda Saulsbury is batting .494 (40-for-81) with a team-best 27 RBIs and 22 runs scored.
Junior Alegend Baltimore-Lane leads the team with five homers, 20 RBIs, 21 runs scored and is hitting .469 (30-for-64). As a team, the Wildcats are batting .392.
Liberty-Bedford (20-6) hasn’t allowed more than four runs all season and defeated Staunton River, 2-0, last week in the state quarterfinals.
This is the Wildcats first trip to the state semifinals since winning back-to-back state titles in 1984 and 1985. However, playing in state tournaments is not a new experience for Coons and Saulsbury. The pair were on Warren County’s volleyball team, which advanced to at least the state semis the last two seasons.
Coons said that experience is valuable for her and the whole team.
“I think it helps everyone stay a lot less nervous,” Coons said. “If they look at me and Jayda (Saulsbury) and we’re not nervous. And Elizabeth (Keener) if she’s on her game. If she doesn’t seem scared and me and Jayda are all right, everyone else kind of feeds off of us. Like ‘oh it’s just another game. It’s not anything big.’ But we know in the back of our minds that it’s huge.”
Skyline plays Turner Ashby in Thursday’s other semifinal. A win by Warren County and Skyline would set-up a fourth meeting between the cross-town rivals – this time for a state championship.
McDaniel said the fact that both teams are in the semifinals shows how strong softball is in the area.
“It really wouldn’t surprise me,” McDaniel said of a possible meeting in the state final. “I think we play just as good as softball here as we do anywhere else in the state. We hear a lot about Loudoun, Fairfax and areas like that. But the truth is we’re just as competitive and just as talented here as anywhere.”