EMORY, Va. – To set the record straight, Northwood High School pitcher Nancy Jo Roberts is just a junior. Despite some media reports that have occasionally listed her as a senior, Roberts hasn’t graduated yet, much to the chagrin of some coaches.
It should also be noted that Northwood catcher Caroline Hayden is just a ninth-grader. That means the batterymates from Saltville will still be around to batter opponents for a while longer.
"She’s made my life easy," Hayden said. "Not much more you can do when she’s pitching shutouts."
The two have certainly been on the same page lately.
Roberts extended her scoreless innings streak to 31 2/3 in crafting her 12th shutout of the season as Northwood notched a 4-0 victory over Patrick Henry on Wednesday in the finals of the VHSL Region 1D softball tournament at Emory & Henry College.
Northwood (22-1) outscored Rye Cove, Twin Springs and Patrick Henry by an aggregate score of 26-0 in repeating as Region 1D champions.
Roberts hasn’t allowed a run since May 15 when Holston’s Lexie Lane connected for a one-out, fourth-inning RBI single against her in the semifinals of the Hogoheegee District tournament.
She certainly upped her performance level in the Region 1D tourney, striking out 42 and yielding just nine hits in 21 overpowering innings.
An 80-minute rain delay occurred prior to Wednesday’s game, but it didn’t bother Roberts.
"The last three games everybody has been hot," Roberts said. "As I’ve said before, as a pitcher when everybody’s hitting and making plays, it makes me hot too. When someone’s hitting line drives, it motivates me more [in the circle] when we hit good."
Northwood committed just two errors in the regional tourney and fielded flawlessly on Wednesday.
"Pitching and defense," said Northwood coach B.J. Buchanan. "That will win you a lot of ballgames."
A unique pitching strategy employed by Patrick Henry coach Tami Counts kept the Rebels in Wednesday’s game. She opted to give top pitcher Abigail Street a rest and used Lindsey Counts, Abigail Belcher and Carlee Taylor for two innings apiece in the circle.
While Northwood finished with 10 hits and didn’t strike out once, the Panthers didn’t pound the ball as they had in previous meetings with the Rebels.
"That was real smart on Tami’s part," Buchanan said. "We were way out on our front foot, pecking at stuff. We figured it out a time or two, but we only scored four runs."
Tami Counts couldn’t complain with how her impromptu pitchers performed.
"I’ve had it in the back of my mind all season long," Counts said. "Sometimes you just have to mix it up. I thought if we slowed it down a little bit, that might help. … We had some errors or we could have held them a little more. We’re still plagued with the same issue of we just have to hit the ball and put it in play against them."
Patrick Henry (11-13) loaded the bases in the fifth inning, but Roberts struck out Kaycee Deskins to end the only real serious scoring threat. Carlee Taylor had two hits for the Rebels, who have qualified for the state tournament for the second time in three years.
"Some of them got upset about a second-place trophy, but I told them they have a lot to be proud of," Counts said. "This is an accomplishment and there are not many teams left still playing. They’ve worked hard all season long and I am proud of their effort."
Roberts, Miranda McGlocklin and Catie Bordwine each had two hits for Northwood to go along with the two knocks by Hayden.
Hayden took over catching duties after JoJo Broyles graduated and has been rock-solid.
"We did lose a good catcher and I was a little nervous with a new one," Roberts said. "But Caroline has done everything right. I couldn’t ask for anything better. I love her to death and I wouldn’t trade her for anybody in the world. No balls get past her and she does very well. A freshman that can do that is amazing."
Hayden credits her teammates for the seamless transition.
"They’ve been so accepting and welcoming me on to this team," Hayden said. "I’m really thankful for that. It’s just a really great group of girls."
A group of girls that will host a state quarterfinal game on Tuesday. The Panthers lost to Auburn in last season’s state semifinals.
"We know what we want and we’re after it," Buchanan said. "We aren’t going to be happy just to be there."
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