RADFORD, Va. – There will be a new state champion this season in Virginia High School League Class 2 softball.
In a contest of familiar foes, a lot of blue and a similar stage, the outcome was different.
Behind 13 strikeouts via the arm of Mac Osborne and big hits from Emma Crawford and Ally Staten, Richlands muscled past Page County 2-0 on Thursday to RSVP to today’s Class 2 state championship tilt against Madison County at 9 a.m.
“I am just tickled to death for our girls, for our coaches, we have worked so hard to get to this point. Mac did a great job and the defense came through,” said Richlands skipper Ronnie Davis. “Emma got a big hit with that home run. Ally got a big hit to give us some cushion. Man, it feels great. We got one more to go.”
The Blue Tornado’s momentum built in the top of the fifth when Crawford strolled to the dish with one out.
The Richlands second baseman tattooed a rocket over the center field wall to give the Blue Tornado a 1-0 lead.
With both arms raised for her trip around the base path, the excitement radiating out of the Richlands dugout could be felt on the banks of the New River.
“I didn’t know if it was going to make it all the way. I thought I may have got a double,” said a joyous Crawford. “When I saw it clear the trees, I was like OK.”
The Richlands skipper noted that the second baseman’s dinger helped Richlands from not only an emotional aspect but strategically as well.
“That gave us an emotional lift—a one run lead,” said Davis. “That is what we were looking for. We wanted to get on board first and put a little pressure on them. We haven’t done that a lot up here. We got that done and they started pressing at the plate.”
Until Crawford’s shot, two of the best pitchers in Class 2 shined bright as Osborne and Page’s Sabrina Foltz clashed on Radford University’s Softball Field.
Both hurlers faced the minimum in the first two frames.
It was Richlands first baseman Savannah Stevenson that broke up Foltz’s no hitter in the third but was left stranded.
The Panthers offense started banging on the door in the third as well. Foltz led off the inning as she reached on a Richlands error. Marissa Morgan reached on an infield single before Brooklyn Fridley reached on a fielder’s choice. On Fridley’s fielder’s choice, Foltz was retired via the force on a heads up play from Staten for the second out of the inning.
Osborne buckled down to get the Blues out of the jam in a ballgame that remained scoreless.
Richlands’ junior ace would work out of a jam once again in the fourth with Panther runners on second and third as her defense recorded back to back outs before Osborne slammed the door on the inning with one of her 13 strikeouts.
“She got a little frustrated in that inning,” Davis said. “They were chasing her pitches and that is when she is the best.”
Osborne has matured throughout the years and takes an upperclassman’s approach to combat adversity.
“I’ve learned to just let it go. Flush it down the drain, just keep playing, next batter,” said Osborne, the Richlands ace. “It doesn’t matter how many people are on because I am just going to focus on getting the next batter for our team.”
After Crawford’s slam in the fifth, Osborne took to the circle with a 1-0 lead and retired the Page County side in order.
Just like her counterpart, Foltz, the Region 2B player of the year, came out throwing darts to retire Richlands in order in the sixth to keep Page’s hopes high when all the momentum seemed to be in the opposing dugout.
“1-0, you still gotta chance. 1-0, yeah you figure you can score a run,” said Page County skipper Alan Knight. “You still always got a shot.”
However, the defending state champions could not muster a run in the sixth against the gunslinger Osborne.
Richlands kept the foot on the throttle as Ginger Shortt hit a one out double in the seventh before Alyssa Lee came in to pinch run for the Blue Tornado right fielder.
After Crawford walked, Richlands had two runners on with two outs when Staten strolled to the dish.
The lone Richlands senior sent a laser into the outfield to score Lee from second to put the Blue Tornado advantage at 2-0.
“We needed another run for insurance,” said Staten, the Southwest Virginia Community College signee. “It just made it ten times easier for us to go out in the field and get three outs”
That’s just what the Blues did.
Osborne fanned two of the final three batters to push her season K total to 300 and to punch Richlands ticket to the state finals for the third consecutive season.
The Blues had sought revenge and found it at the Home of the Highlanders.
“[This feels] probably better than it has the past two years in the state semis, especially where they beat us in the finals last year,” Osborne said. “We just came out and showed them who we are.”
The Blues have had many motivations to play for all season but on Thursday there was one in particular that stood out to Davis.
“We are playing for Zac Carter during his battle with cancer. The girls make a Z each time they get a hit and have a Z on their helmets,” Davis said. “We are praying for him and his family.”
Page County finishes its season with a 22-6 record after just coming up short of getting back to the championship matchup.
“I’m disappointed and my girls are disappointed. You wanna win this game to get to the championship game and we didn’t,” said Knight. “We unfortunately got beat today. We’re still one of four teams in the state tournament. We just came up a game short.”
For Richlands, the Blues seek to avenge a 2017 Class 2 state championship loss to Madison County today in Radford.
Perhaps, the third time will be the charm for the Blue Tornado.
“Now I am determined to win the ring,” said Staten.