COEBURN, Va. – It’s been an historic season for the Marion Little League softball program, but Taylor Preston was focused on the present Saturday.
Behind 12 strikeouts, the athletic right-hander crafted a no-hitter in Marion’s 10-0 victory over District 11 champion Bluefield in the loser’s bracket of the Virginia State Major Division tournament at Coeburn Little League.
According to league officials, this is Marion’s first-ever appearance in the premier major division (age 10-11-12) state tourney.
“We’ve been preparing and working so hard for this tournament,” Preston said. “We put our offense and defense together today and played with confidence.”
Preston, who stuck with her fastball Saturday, has been groomed by Radford University pitching coach Kaitlyn Medlam who was a four-time all-conference pitcher at Georgia State.
Most of the Marion players also compete with the Marion-based Pink Warriors travel team. That squad is coached by Marion’s manager and Taylor’s father, Ronnie Preston.
The Pink Warriors have been working out and competing in regional tournaments since March, and will participate in a tournament in the travel-ball hotbed of Myrtle Beach later this summer
Ella Moss, daughter of former Emory & Henry College basketball great and current Marion High School athletic director Sallie Lefler Moss, collected two hits including an inside-the-park home run. Madi Preston (three hits), Jaylin Ferland (two hits) and Aubree Whitt (two RBIs) paced the offense as Marion compiled 11 hits and took an aggressive approach with base-running.
In a task that is rare even at the high school level, Moss called every pitch for Preston behind the plate.
“I started calling pitches when I was 11 and I enjoy it,” Moss said.
So what is the plan of attack with Preston?
“Taylor is really talented,” Moss said. “I normally call for a fastball or dropball, but she has a range of pitchers. We’ve all been looking forward to this tournament. No one has told us about the history of our program, but we’re all having fun.”
In a 10 a.m. contest Saturday, Marion blasted District 7 titlist Phoebus Wythe by a 12-2 margin in four innings. Skylar Pike earned the decision with nine strikeouts while Preston supplied two hits.
Two years ago, Marion advanced to the state 9-10 tournament in Damascus before losing in the first round.
“That [state experience] helped today,” Taylor Preston said. “Our goals here have been stick together and fight through every challenge
Marion, which fell 13-3 to traditional state power McLean on Friday, will face Central Accomack from District 8 today at noon. McLean captured 9-11 Virginia state softball crown Saturday
“Winning this tournament would mean the world to us,” Taylor Preston said.
Bluefield took an 8-5 victory over District 14 champ Gordonsville Saturday morning
District 13 titlist Norton also made some noise Saturday with a 6-3 win over District 6 representative Western Branch as Maci Sensabaugh, Rehgan Sensabaugh and Kiana Johnson collected two hits apiece. Jordan Mooney and Kylee Sturgill added hits while Madison Sergent earned the decision in the circle.
Maci and Rehgan are the daughters of former J.I. Burton football Hall of Famer Boo Sensabaugh, who started in the defensive background at West Virginia.
“It’s good to be the home team since we only have to travel 15 minutes,’ said Norton coach Mark Sturgill, a former baseball and basketball standout at J.I. Burton High School in Norton. “We’re strong in the pitching department and we have several girls that have competed at the state level before.”
Norton was unbeaten en route to claiming its third straight District 13 Major League crown. In the championship, 11-year-old left-hander Jordan Mooney spun a no-hitter and scored the lone run in a 1-0 win over White Rocks (Lee County). Mooney earned the decision in all four of Norton’s district games, collecting a total of 54 strikeouts while allowing just eight hits.
“There is definitely some pressure in the state tournament,” said Mooney, the 11-year-old daughter of longtime J.I. Burton football assistant Jack Mooney. “The teams are tougher so you have to be more focused and not allow runners on base.
Mooney began pitching at age 8 and has advanced thanks to the instruction of University of Virginia’s College at Wise co-head softball coach Karen Bitter.
“Coach Bitter is wonderful,” Mooney said. “I work with her every chance I can and she has helped me so much. I’ve been working on a curve, riseball and change-up to go with my fastball.
Norton also competed in the state Senior League tournament this week in Woodstock with regular Major League manager Thomas McCurdy.
“We have some talent in our overall program and our Major League team has six 11-year-olds,” Sturgill said. “Most of the larger population team from areas like Northern Virginia rely on 12-year-olds, so our future looks good.”
In a game played late Saturday, Norton was eliminated with a 5-1 loss to Bridgewater