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Spartans Jump Out Early, Defeat Salem

Softball team reaches state title game with semifinals win.

From start to finish of Broad Run High’s 8-0 Virginia State AA softball semifinals win over Salem (Virginia Beach) last Friday afternoon, the Spartans were at the top of their game.

Broad Run, in the state playoff contest at Radford University, played a near perfect game as it knocked around eight hits at the plate, committed no defensive errors in the field and received a typically brilliant outing from star pitcher Caitlyn Delahaba, who fanned 19 batters and allowed one hit.

"We were pretty confident coming into the game," said Broad Run senior second baseman Michelle Clohan, who doubled and scored two runs in the win that advanced the Spartans to the following day’s title game.

Broad Run went on to win its second straight state championship with Saturday’s 4-0 finals victory over Tunstall High (see related story).

"Last year, we were more excited," said Clohan, of the team’s differing emotional range at states the past two years. "This year, we’re a lot more focused."

Broad Run took the suspense out of the semifinals game right from the start, as the Spartans broke the game open with five runs in the bottom of the first inning. Key at-bats during the stanza included a run-scoring double into the right center field gap by senior Karla Powell, an RBI single into right center field off the bat of clean-up hitter Haley Johnson, a two-run triple (also hit into the right center field gap) by junior Reagan Doiron and a sacrifice fly to center field by sophomore Anna Blessing, which closed out the scoring in the huge inning.

Just like that, Broad Run had roughed up Salem sophomore left handed pitcher Ellen Weaver and the Sun Devils.

"We were right on her [at the plate]," said Clohan, of the strong at-bats the Spartans put forth against Weaver during that first inning. "And we stayed focused in the field."

<b>SALEM</b> (21-7), a member of the Eastern Region, put just three balls into play the entire game, and had one hit off Delahaba. The base hit came in the top of the first inning when Salem No. 2 hitter Katie Stauffer, a freshman, lofted a shallow ball into left center field for a single. Delahaba struck out the next two hitters to end the inning before the Broad Run offense struck for its big five-run inning in its half of the first.

Salem never touched Delahaba after its first inning hit. The only two Sun Devil players to make contact thereafter were No. 7 batter Amanda Hill (second inning ground out to shortstop Ashley Kramer) and Stauffer (fourth inning pop up to third baseman Doiron).

Delahaba fanned the final 11 batters she faced. She had no walks.

Broad Run scored single runs in the second, fourth and fifth innings. Powell grounded an RBI single into center field to give Broad Run a 6-0 lead in the second.

In the fourth, Kramer reached first on an infield single. Later in the inning, she scored from third on a Broad Run double steal attempt in which Powell was called out at second for the final out of the inning. Kramer’s run was allowed because she had scored prior to Powell being tagged out. (Powell was originally safe, but over-slid the bag).

Broad Run’s fifth inning run came as a result of another sacrifice fly from Blessing – her second of the game.

<b>THE SUN DEVILS</b> looked to be a nervous ball club in the big semifinals game. Weaver, the Salem pitcher, dropped an easy pop up in the first inning, which resulted in a fielder’s choice. Later in the first inning, it appeared a Broad Run batted ball into the outfield would be caught. Instead, a mis-communication problem between the center and right fielders resulted in the ball falling in for a base hit.

A similar scenario occurred in the third inning when a Broad Run foul ball pop up to the right side resulted in two Salem fielders waiting for the other to go for the ball. Neither did.

Along with the Salem defense battling a case of the nerves, Weaver, the team’s southpaw pitcher, struggled to find the strike zone. She walked seven Broad Run batters in the game, including two in the decisive first inning (base on balls to Kramer and Delahaba). And even when she was not walking batters, Weaver was regularly falling behind in the count and throwing tons of pitches on an extremely hot day.

"She is definitely a good pitcher," said Delahaba, of her pitching counterpart. "She had a little nerve [problems] today. She’s young."

Delahaba said the Spartans were determined to jump out quickly against Salem. In a game played in hot, muggy conditions, both Broad Run and the heat seemed to sap the strength out of the Sun Devils early on.

"It was definitely really hot," said Delahaba. "We knew we had to come out strong, and we did so in the first inning. That took the pressure off me. I was just trying to get people out [thereafter]."

Broad Run was the more seasoned team, and it showed. The Spartans, state champions a year ago, know how to handle big games. Salem, with just two seniors on its roster, looked as if it realized whom it was playing against.

"Definitely, the experience is to our advantage," said Delahaba. "We’re real excited to be [at states] again and want to finish a perfect season."

Broad Run coach Ed Steele said his team did exactly what it wanted to by scoring early and often against Salem. With Delahaba on the mound, it was highly unlikely that the Sun Devils would ever get back into the game after falling behind 5-0.

"As soon as we scored a run, I won’t say we relaxed, but we felt good," said Steele, with a smile.

The coach said Delahaba, who throws 60-plus on the radar, has terrific ball movement on her pitches. The Salem batters were simply overmatched. All but one of Delahaba’s 19 strikeouts came on third strike swings.

"She’s an amazing pitcher and has amazing people around her," said Steele, of Delahaba and her supporting cast.

The coach also said Delahaba’s batterymate – Johnson – is outstanding behind the plate.

"There’s not a better catcher then Haley Johnson at calling pitches and playing defense," said Steele.

Steele has marveled at his team’s focus and mindset this season in taking each game as it comes and not looking past the next day’s opponent. Following the win over Salem, the coach said his team was already mentally preparing for the championship game against Tunstall.

"They are waiting for tomorrow, that’s all they are talking about," said Steele. "After that, they can sit back and relax."