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Softball team locks up state tournament bid with shutout

Senior shortstop Jameshia Smith wanted to cap her Comets softball career by playing in the state tournament, and she will live her dream after a four-for-four day at the plate helped Smith and her teammates beat Loudoun Valley 3-0 at home Wednesday in the Northwest Region Tournament semifinals. Halifax will play at either Battlefield or Mountain View today for the Northwest Region championship, but Wednesday’s win guaranteed the Comets a berth in the state tourney for the first time since 2007.

Halifax County first had to get past Loudoun Valley, a team that defeated them 5-1 last year in the region quarterfinals and 11-0 in 2008 in the region semifinals, but this game went the Comets’ way, due to clutch hitting, pitching and defense.

Jameshia Smith singled in the first inning and singled again in the third inning before scoring the game’s first run on a VeVe Brandon triple.

Jennifer Lacks was stranded after a leadoff double in the fourth inning, but the Comets added their second run an inning later after singles by Kelsey White and Smith put runners at second and third.

White dashed home after a Loudoun Valley error on a bunt laid down by Sydney Puryear to make it 2-0, and Halifax added its final run in the sixth inning on a Jill Trickey base hit and RBI double by Smith.

Three runs proved enough for Comets’ hurler Sam Gibson, who tossed a one-hitter for her fourth straight post-season shutout.

Gibson struck out five batters and walked only one, the only Vikings hit coming from pitcher Sam Adams in the third inning when Loudoun Valley threatened to take the lead after a pair of errors put runners at second and third with one out.

Comets’ left fielder Jamilia Smith trapped Adam’s soft line drive hit and fired home to nail Allison Pentony for the second out, and a groundout got the Comets out of the inning.

The ball didn’t bounce her team’s way on Wednesday, according to Vikings’ coach Kristin Thurston.

“We were hitting the ball hard, but it was right to them.  This is a hard field and the ball was bouncing a lot, and unfortunately, it bounced into their gloves,” said Thurston.

“I think only one of us struck out, maybe two, and we hit the ball, just right at somebody.

“Halifax has great arms, too, and they were able to get off the hard throws.

“Our pitcher did a great job, she buckled down when there was a runner on third, which is hard to do, and our defense kept us in the game.

“What they did hit were great rise balls by our pitcher, way out of the zone, and they were very aggressive hitters.

“I don’t think their pitching was any better than ours, they just got some hits that we didn’t.”

Jameshia Smith said later making the state tournament has been a goal all along.

“It feels great, it’s my senior year and I want to go all the way,” she said, adding she knew her team stood behind her despite her fielding error in the third inning.

“I knew my team had my back,” added Smith, who compensated with a solid day at the plate.

Puryear and Gibson both noted the team’s hard work has paid off.

“It feels good to get the state,” said Puryear, who assisted on five putouts with five ground balls to third base.

“We worked hard and we want to win it for Ms. Saunders.”

Halifax has battled both tough competition and stifling heat the past two games to reach the state tourney, and Gibson admitted it’s all been worth it.

“It’s gotten to where the heat bothers us a little bit, but we fight through it to the very end,” said Gibson.

“It feels really exciting to get to the state, and I can’t wait.  We’re not done yet and we’re just starting.”

Comets’ coach Melanie Saunders said she could feel the energy in the dugout before the game started.

“The kids came in and I could feel the energy today,” said Saunders.

“We came out here today after a good practice yesterday where we kept it light.  There was no pressure and when you get to this point the kids know, and you don’t have to tell them, if you lose you’re done.

“They’ve (Loudoun Valley) had us the past couple of years and I told the girls when you get to this point, you’ll see good teams like we did tonight.

“But, our girls were upbeat and they brought it to the field and to the plate, and it showed.

“We are aggressive at the plate and we left some runners on base a couple of innings, but I told them to keep fighting and score runners when they got on, and they did it.”

The team knew it had the talent and mental toughness to make the state tournament this year, according to Saunders.

“We (coaches) haven’t talked about it, but they’ve done it and played today like they wanted it,” she said.

“We have the capability to go to Northern Virginia Friday and win the region if we continue to play as a team.

“This team has what it takes and they work so well together.

“They believe in us as coaches, and they believe in each other, and I’m as proud as I can be of them.”