Future Looks Bright For Prince George
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jun 23, 2014, 08:57
Haleigh Edwards clutch-hits and great fielding returns to the Royals next season.
BURKE, Va. — Even with just one out left to play with, Prince George's softball team refused to believe their season was just a few strikes away from ending. They sensed an opportunity to come-from-behind, much like they did earlier in the game to take a lead, and they had the tying run in scoring position.
But Briar Woods pitcher Kayla Brennan would not allow the Lady Royals' magical season to continue. She fired three consecutive strikes past pinch-hitter Marcey Jiles, the last one inciting a celebration on the field for the Falcons and sadness in the dugout of Prince George. In the moments following the season-ending loss, the Lady Royals struggled to believe their run was over.
It was a run which captured the imagination and showed what a close-knit team which never quits could accomplish with the right mind-set and attitude. It's why tears were shed by the players as they gathered around the first base line in the outfield as manager Pat Waguespack spoke to them following the game. His message was one of being proud of what they accomplished by sticking together and the seniors lingered after his last words to the group as tears rolled down their eyes.
But as Whitney Clements, Mandy Almarode and Maddy Martin walked off the field for the last time in a Prince George uniform, it represented the start of a new era the three of them were integral in starting. While it was hard to focus on immediately following the loss, but the Lady Royals have a winning core in place to pick up where they started last season.
The experience of coming together in the bleakest of moments coupled with the come-from-behind wins will only serve to better prepare the team for next season which they have the opportunity to finish what they started.
"I was proud of them that they were driven to win and that they came to the field and remained focused throughout this run," Prince George manager Pat Waguespack said after their season ended. "That's what you want .., All those qualities to be such a team that we were, we did. We showed qualities even throughout this game even in the loss."
And it's those very same qualities which will serve the Royals even better next season.
Prince George dealt with plenty of adversity both against Briar Woods in the semifinals and during their playoff run, handling each with calm and determination. It was seen in the way the Royals climbed out of deficits against the Falcons and Great Bridge to put themselves into position to take a lead.
It was seen in the way Casey Abernathy remained in the game after dislocating her finger and promptly recording two key hits after suffering the injury. And it was seen in the way the team dealt with the loss. While tears were shed, it was mostly tears of joy that this particular team had accomplished so much, but fell short of giving the seniors what they deserved.
But behind those tears was a face of determination that this was only the beginning. The experience of finding out what it takes to get to the State Tournament will only help the Royals next season, none more so than sophomore Madison Barlow.
The right-handed pitcher was a key reason the Royals were able to go on a late-season run as she put the full package together. While she sometimes struggled with location and being consistent with her pitches, Barlow was on top of her game come the playoffs. The confidence she gained on top of the experience will be instrumental to her development.
"Madison during the last part there started to locate her pitches real well," Waguespack said. "She doesn't throw overly hard, but she located and didn't walk a lot and that's something to look forward to if she continues to improve herself. She learned that she can handle the pressure. Only by playing these games can you learn."
And that is the key aspect for a young Prince George team.
The Royals return 11 players from this year's team going into next season with plenty of them coming up with key hits during the playoff run. There was Tarah Ashley recording three key hits in Prince George's loss to Briar Woods. Then, there was also Haleigh Edwards blasting a two-RBI double which gave the Royals a lead.
Madison Barlow will take the experience of a playoff run and likely improve next season.
The production spanned the entire lineup throughout the run, even on the defensive side where Sarah Daniel's key play to gun down a runner at first base helped change momentum. Even Ashley's scoops at first base were key to getting outs and not allowing opponents to jump-start rallies.
But most importantly, the team's mentality to not give up when they could have is one they will take into next season and hope to continue.
"We could have laid down when we were 11-8 and just finished out the season," Waguespack said. "But we didn't do that. We went to 12-8, 13-8, did lose go Matoaca, but then put in three more victories in a row that were very critical and got a Regional Championship."
While success is not guaranteed for the Royals, it would be difficult to discount a team with so many returners and a winning attitude which stunned many this past season.