RADFORD, Va. -- Picture this: the tying run perched on third base in the top of the seventh inning while the winning run stands at the plate with a full count and two outs. A berth in the state title game is on the line.
The situation would be nerve-wracking for anyone, especially a freshman in high school.
Mac Osborne isn’t your normal high school freshman.
The Richlands pitcher went on to strike out Goochland’s Faith Gerdes to leave the tying run stranded and to give Richlands the 1-0 win over the Bulldogs in the VHSL 2A softball semifinals Friday at Radford University. The strikeout was Osborne’s 15th of the day.
The game was a pitcher’s duel from the beginning. Goochland’s Kaitlyn Spencer retired the first 10 batters of the game in order. The University of Virginia's College at Wise signee struck out six of those ten from the circle. Spencer was perfect through three innings and the Goochland offense had drawn two walks and a hit off of Richlands’ Osborne.
Osborne, who recorded her 290th strikeout of the season Friday, described the performance of her counterpart from Goochland quite simply.
“She was good," Osborne said. "She had us fooled.”
The momentum seemed to be with the Bulldogs until the bottom of the fourth.
With one out, third baseman Lauren Earls stepped to the dish for the Tornado with hopes of breaking up Spencer’s perfect game.
“I knew we needed someone to get on base,” said Earls, one of Richlands’ seven freshman starters. “When I got up there, I had confidence that I was going to hit the ball.”
Earls came through with a shot through the gap into left field. The crowd that had traveled 111 miles from Richlands to Radford roared as the momentum swung in favor of the Blues.
A few pitches later, Earls stole second and stood in scoring position, when Emma Crawford, the team’s leader in RBIs stepped up to try and knock in the most important run of Richlands’ season.
The freshman catcher sent a 3-2 pitch into the outfield that would score Earls from second. Richlands had not only broken up a perfect game and taken the momentum, but had taken control.
“Lauren got a great jump and stole second,” said Richlands head coach Ronnie Davis. “Emma does what Emma’s done before this year. She got a big hit and the game-winning RBI. We talk about we get a runner on second and we’re gonna score.”
The feeling Earls had when she came home is one she won’t forget anytime soon.
“I trust my team in moving us around [the bases],” said the Blue Tornado third baseman. “Emma moved me around. It was just an amazing feeling when I stepped on home plate.”
As for Osborne, she got in on the action to get the Tornado’s third and final hit of the fourth inning before Ally Staten grounded out to end Richlands’ offensive attack.
From the fourth inning on, Osborne had on her best poker face. Osborne closed out the game with eight strikeouts over the course of three innings of work.
Goochland (20-4) tried everything to tie the game up in the latter stages of the contest. The Bulldogs substituted multiple pinch hitters and runners in the game especially in the top of the seventh when things may have looked to go back in their favor.
Goochland shortstop Cherish Sims saw her first offensive action of the day when she was called into run for designated player Katelin Martin after Martin singled. The junior stole second and third base while Osborne faced Ellie Spencer and Gerdes.
Osborne sat down Spencer with four pitches, but faced more of a battle with the junior second baseman Gerdes. Gerdes fought to a 3-2 count with the tying run on third.
With the winning run at the plate, Ronnie Davis never lost faith in his team.
“[I thought] Mac’s gonna get her out. She is gonna strike her out or put it down on the ground and we’re gonna make that play,” said Davis, a former Richlands baseball player. “I have so much confidence in these girls.”
Osborne battled right back as she did all day. She sent a 3-2 pitch into the glove of Emma Crawford for a called strike three.
The resurgence of the Goochland offense was squelched and the Blues live to play another day.
The late offensive push and dominating performance by Kaitlyn Spencer received high praise from the Richlands dugout.
“You don’t get to this point if you’re not good. They’re not good, they’re great,” Davis said. “They are well coached. They hit the ball just as well as anybody against Mac this year. The Good Lord blessed us that they didn’t get a hit with runners in scoring position. That goes back to the competitiveness of Mac, Emma and the rest of the team.”
Richlands (22-2) will play for the VHSL 2A state championship Saturday at 1 p.m. against Madison County (25-1) at Radford University.
With a lineup consisting of seven freshmen, a sophomore and a senior, the Blues look to leap over their last hurdle of the season.
But while the state berth may be a shocker to most of the state, it doesn’t come shocking to those who grace the lighting 'R' on their jersey.
“It’s very exciting. I think we can do it. We just have to say calm,” Osborne said. “I am very proud of [the team]."
The Blues will try to clinch the third state championship in school history and the first since Rhonda Blevins’ crew was able to earn back-to-back Group AA titles in 1995 and 1996.
“I am just tickled to death for the girls, [assistant] coach [James] Cochran, the parents, Richlands High School and the town of Richlands that we’re here,” Davis said. “It’s something that we talked about at the beginning of the year. We’ve got one more to play."