Royals Wear Region Crown
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jun 5, 2014, 23:36
Madison Barlow readies to jump into Maddy Martin's arm after she hauled in the final out of the 5A South Region Championship game.
VIRGINIA BEACH — Through four innings of action, Prince George and Great Bridge sat deadlocked in a 1-1 game where each team knew one pitch and one inning could be the key factor in winning the 5A South Region Championship. And the elusive game-changing moment came in the top of the 5th inning when Royals' pitcher and No. 9 hitter Madison Barlow lined an opposite-field single into right field to lead off the inning.
Then, her sister McKenzie Barlow wasted little time at the plate, laying down a perfect bunt down the third base line while forcing an errant throw, putting runners on second and third with no one out. However, No. 2 hitter Casey Abernathy — the Royals' spark-plug at the top-of-the-lineup with her game-breaking speed — found herself the victim of a 1-2 fielder's choice, passing the baton to Whitney Clements.
Clements, a member of the First team All-Conference 12 infield, had waited four years for a moment such as this. It was a chance to break open a game and put her team a few outs away from a Region title. The senior eyed the first pitch from Wildcats' starting pitcher Sydney Harless and let it travel off the outside corner for a ball. Three pitches later, Clements found herself in a 3-1 count and swung hard at the offering only to foul it off.
Prince George's co-captain would make sure she wouldn't miss the next pitch, grounding the ball up the middle past the pitcher and right behind the second base bag. Wildcats' second baseman Sarah Cimring ranged far to her right to stop the grounder from getting into the outfield, but it was too late. Abernathy's speed and awareness to realize the grounder would get past the pitcher allowed her to score from second base, giving the Royals a 3-1 lead.
The Royals would not have another baserunner reach base over the final two innings, but they didn't need one. Barlow ran back to the center of the diamond and her defense played stout behind her, putting the Royals just three outs away. Then, after setting down the first batter of the 7th, Barlow allowed two consecutive singles, bringing about a chorus of cheers out of the Great Bridge dugout.
However, the second team All-Conference 12 pitcher did not waver, setting down the next two hitters on just three pitches before jumping into the arms of Royals' third baseman Maddy Martin after she hauled in the final out of a 3-1 victory, giving Prince George the 5A South Region Title and No. 1 seed in the State Tournament.
"I'm lost for words," Prince George head coach Pat Waguespack said after claiming his third Region title. "I'm moved by it personally. They're good ballplayers and they haven't put it together the way they would have liked and to see them do it now is just a testament to them."
And a big reason why the Royals were able to dump a cooler full of water on their coach, create a dog pile on the field and hold a championship trophy high above their heads was because of the at-bat by Clements.
While many hitters feel pressure in certain situations, especially in moments of key importance such as hitting with runners in scoring position, the senior does not notice it. She steps into the batter's box with a plan of attack and never tries to do too much. As the count went to 3-1 and she fouled off a pitch which found the middle of the plate, Clements never panicked.
Instead, she stepped back into the box and calmly delivered the game-winning two-RBI single — her only hit of the game on a 1-for-3 night — impressing her coach.
Whitney Clements' two-RBI single in the 5th inning was the difference in the Royals' 3-1 victory.
"She certainly came through in the clutch at that moment and we had some speed on the bases at that time who could score," Waguespack said of the at-bat. "Whitney was the clutch person to come through, but it was set up by those in front of her."
Added Clements, "I just tried to stay calm because I didn't want anything from the outside get to me. I just focused on getting a hit because I knew I had to do something in that situation."
Yet, perhaps the true key to the game was the pitching of Barlow on the mound.
The sophomore right-hander has been the key to the Royals' surprise run to the State Tournament, tossing two consecutive complete-games while on the hill. However, her start against Great Bridge may have been the most impressive because of the way she dealt with the obstacles in front of her.
After needing just 12 pitches to get through a 1st inning in which she punched out two batters, Barlow looked to be in cruise control, but the troubles would arrive in the 2nd. The sophomore encountered some trouble, allowing four consecutive Wildcats to reach base before getting out of the inning while limiting the damage to just one run allowed. And it was from that point on, Barlow moved to another level.
Barlow stymied the Wildcats' offensive with an array of rise balls piercing the outside corner while mixing in enough change-ups to keep the Great Bridge lineup off-balance and her own team in charge of the momentum.
"She's tossed two complete games while keeping people off stride," Waguespack said of the sophomore's 7-inning, six-hit, three-strikeout and one-run outing. "She's not putting a lot of people on and forcing them to hit her pitches. She just did a super job. A great job from her."
But it was also a continuation of great job from the entire Royals' team over the past few weeks.
The entire Prince George team poses with their 5A South Region Championship Trophy
Not much was expected out of a young Prince George team as the season began and their up-and-down play during the season — they had won just three of nine games during one span — but they have come around when they needed to. Entering the Conference 12 Tournament as the No. 4 seed, the Royals took down L.C. Bird and Manchester to earn a berth into the Region Tournament.
Then, the Royals defeated both Lee-David and Atlee by a combined 4-1 score before taking down Great Bridge for the title, seemingly putting everything together at the most opportune of moments.
"Toward the last part of the season, we had some up and down games, but to all of a sudden be up, up, up, playing like we are, is amazing," Waguespack said. "I'm just so proud of all these young ladies."
After winning four of their last five games, just two wins separate the Royals from a State Title and with the way Prince George is playing, it would be hard to characterize their recent stretch as anything but a team coming together at the right time.