Prince George Falls In State Semifinals
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jun 14, 2014, 20:44
Whitney Clements and Casey Abernathy score on a Haleigh Edwards' double, but it would not be enough.
BURKE, Va. — Entering the bottom of the 5th inning, Prince George's softball team looked to the scoreboard and saw Briar Woods held a 1-0 lead with just nine outs separating them from a berth into the 5A State Championship game. However, the Lady Royals have been in similar situations during much of their magical playoff run and the one-run deficit did not faze them.
Instead, Prince George took advantage of Briar Woods' first miscue of the game and converted it into a big inning. After McKenzie Barlow hit into a ground-out to the shortstop while leading-off the inning, Casey Abernathy swung at a pitch in the dirt for a strikeout, but alertly ran to first base on the wild-pitch. Then, senior Whitney Clements, who has developed a certain clutch-factor about herself through the entirety of her career, turned on an 0-2 offering for a single into left field.
On the very next pitch, Abernathy took off from second base and swiped third with her top-flight speed, allowing Clements to advance to second and set up a big opportunity for Haleigh Edwards. After falling behind in the count 1-2, Edwards lined the offering into deep center, driving in both Abernathy and Clements to give Prince George the lead.
The big one-out double seemed destined to be the difference in the game and would be the key play to send the Royals into the State Championship game. But, it was not to be. The Falcons scored three runs on four hits in the decisive 6th inning before tacking on an additional run in the 7th to take full control of the contest.
With runners at second and third and two outs, pinch-hitter Marcey Jiles watched a called strike-three cross home plate, setting off the celebration in the Briar Woods' dugout and eliminating Prince George with a 5-3 loss in the 5A State Semifinals.
"They got the hits when they needed to, and we didn't," Prince George head coach Pat Waguespack said after the game. "We certainly had our opportunities. Softball is about clutch-hitting and today was not our day for that because we had numerous opportunities, but didn't quite get it done."
Madison Barlow tossed 5.1 innings while allowing three runs in a losing effort against Briar Woods.
After making a living throughout the playoffs with clutch-hits and an ability to come-from-behind, the Lady Royals couldn't find the elusive big-hits when they needed. In fact, after being set down in order in the bottom of the 1st inning, Prince George stranded 10 runners on base over the final six innings.
There was the opportunity in the 3rd inning after McKenzie Barlow and Abernathy recorded back-to-back, one-out singles which set the stage for Clements. However, Clements' hard-hit grounder to third base was snagged and turned into a fielder's choice. In the 4th inning, Tarah Ashley narrowly missed a home run to start the inning with a double. She was then sacrificed over to third on a bunt from senior Mandy Almarode before Erica Harris recorded an infield single.
However, with runners at the corners and one out, Maddy Martin grounded out to the pitcher and Madison Barlow popped-out to end the inning and the threat. While Prince George routinely put the pressure on the Falcons, the inability to convert ultimately resulted in a loss.
"We certainly responded in a tough game by coming back and taking the lead by one-run and I thought that would have been enough," Waguespack said of his team's resiliency. "But congratulations to the Falcons for coming back and doing the same thing we did. I'm proud of my girls for the way they came back."
And it should have been no surprise to anyone they did. After all, this was a team who could have given up during an up-and-down campaign, but never relented. Instead, the Lady Royals battled to the final game and knocked out No. 1 seeded Manchester in the Conference 12 Tournament, perhaps raising their own confidence with it as well.
Whitney Clements lines this offering into left field during the 5th inning.
The victory clinched Prince George a Region berth where they won three consecutive games to capture the first-ever 5A South Region title in the newly aligned VHSL playoff format. But the victory meant so much more than a chance to win a State Title.
It captured the imagination of a young team which never thought they would be in this situation during the midst three-game losing streak in the middle of the season and allowed its three seniors one last chance to finish their careers in style.
Clements, who is Francis Marion bound in the Fall after signing a letter of intent to join the softball program, has helped guide Prince George to winning seasons in each of her four years. Her ability to come up with the clutch hit is second-to-none, allowing her to gain numerous accolades such as being named to the Conference 12 First Team in her senior season.
Meanwhile, Almarode's ability to do it all in the field — playing multiple positions as well as the ability to lay down bunts or hit for power — brought a level of versatility to the Lady Royals which will be missed. And perhaps in her final season, Martin had her best year overall, playing great in the field and at the plate. It's why the three lingered around their coach a little while longer, shedding some tears as their high school careers ended.
"Two of them have been solid in the infield, and I think this may have been Maddy's best years," Waguespack said. "Of course, Whitney has been strong and has gotten those accolades whereas the other girls haven't, but they have been solid as well. We're certainly miss them because they have been so consistent throughout their careers."
As some careers end, others start to unfold and that is the case for the Prince George softball team. Losing three starters hurts, but returning 11 players from a State Tournament participant places them among the early favorites to be back next season. And with one more year of experience, who can doubt the Lady Royals will find a way once again.