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Splendid Season Ends

One of the best seasons ever for the Comets’ varsity softball team came to a disappointing end Monday in the first round of the Northwest Regional Tournament, with visiting Loudoun Valley scoring three runs in the first inning on the way to a 5-1 win. Loudoun Valley (16-6) added an unearned run in the third inning and another run on a fielder’s choice in the seventh.

The Comets (21-2) scored a run in the seventh inning when Johanna Spencer walked, Sydney Puryear singled, Jamilia Smith reached on a fielder’s choice and Megan Day on a Loudoun Valley error, before Puryear scored from third on a head-first slide after a wild pitch.

Two strikeouts ended the game with Halifax County runners at second and third base.

Puryear led Halifax hitters with two base hits, her other coming in the second inning, while VeVe Brandon and Day each had doubles, Brandon’s in the fourth inning and Day’s in the fifth.

Comets hurler Stephanie Clark added a base hit in the sixth inning, but Brandon, Day and Clark were left stranded.

Aggressive base running by the Vikings helped them take the early lead, and the Comets made miscues they hadn’t made since early in the season, according to coach Melanie Saunders.

Twice in the first inning, Vikings runners scored from third base on fielder’s choice ground balls, after Comets infielders elected to throw home instead of to first base.

An RBI single accounted for the other Vikings’ tally in the first frame, where the visitors got two of their four hits for the game.

A Comets’ error led to a run for Loudoun Valley in the third and a walk, stolen base and a pair of RBI groundouts gave the Vikings their final run in the top of the seventh.

“They were very aggressive and we made a couple of mental mistakes I don’t think we’ve made since early in the season,” said Saunders.

“I don’t know if it’s the pressure they put on themselves because the coaches intentionally didn’t talk to them about this team.

“You always know when you come from Northern Virginia you’re tough and you play tough teams all year long so you know what to expect as coaches.

“I think they did it to themselves and came out tight, and you could see the tenseness at the plate and in the field, in throws and decisions we don’t normally make.

“Loudoun Valley is a good team but no better than we are.  We got five hits and they got four, but we made mental mistakes behind their hits.”

Loudon Valley coach Joe Spicer agreed that the first inning pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game.

“It’s pretty unusual for us at Valley that we have some young kids who can really run, and we had a couple of situations that we were running on contact and made some plays at home,” said Spicer.

“We knew Halifax has a great team and it put them in a hole right off the bat.

“When you get into a regional game you really don’t know each other well, so a step here, a step there can make a difference.”

“We had a really young team this year with a lot of freshmen and sophomores, and it took them awhile to figure out the high school game,” continued Spicer.

“The seniors have really stepped up in the post season and we’re playing really good ball, so we’re going to ride it as far as it will go.”

Halifax County went with Clark the entire seven innings on the mound, the senior right-hander finishing with nine strikeouts and two walks.

Kelsey Richardson started the game for Loudoun Valley and pitched into the seventh inning before Alley Reid came to the mound in relief.  Vikings’ pitching recorded eight strikeouts.

“Our starter was having such a good effect we stayed with her a little longer than usual,” said Spicer.

“She didn’t allow anybody to get on base in the middle innings so we stuck with her a little longer than usual.”

“Both their pitchers didn’t throw a lot of junk, rise balls, or curves, they hit the corners of the plate, and normally that’s the stuff we practice hitting every day,” Saunders noted.

“But, today they put pressure on themselves, and no matter what we said or did, we couldn’t make them relax.”

“The one thing I have to say about this group that in my 16 years of coaching it’s the best group of girls I’ve had, and it’s led me to understand what a true team is all about,” commented Saunders.

“In all my years of coaching, I thought I’d seen some that came close, but this was the first year the seniors will legitimately leave and understand what a team is all about.

“That’s a great feeling and I don’t want them to hold their heads down.”

“I told them not to forget how Thursday night felt against Franklin County, and what this team has been all year long, coming back in the seventh inning (today) and getting those runners on base, and Sydney diving head first into home,” Saunders added.

“The way we came out in the seventh, it could have been different if we had a couple of extra innings, but you don’t get that here.