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A Little Bit of Everything in Local Softball Gem

Centreville and Chantilly play to midseason form in Concorde meeting.

Cross-town and Concorde District girls’ softball rivals Centreville and Chantilly High Schools squared off Tuesday evening in a mid-season game that had just about everything a softball enthusiast could want – good pitching and hitting, some outstanding defense and late innings drama. In the end, the visiting Centreville squad earned a hard-fought 4-2 win.

“I was definitely real proud of everybody,” said first baseman Katie Sokol, Centreville’s lone senior and team captain, of the win over the local opponents. “It gives us some adrenaline knowing we can walk into school tomorrow following a victory.”

It looked for a while as if that victory for the Wildcats (4-2 season record) was a foregone conclusion after Centreville broke a scoreless tie with a pair of runs in both the top of the fourth and fifth innings to build a 4-0 lead. A squeeze bunt RBI off the bat of Hayley Holmes, which plated teammate Cara Donovan, and a fielder’s choice RBI from Karen Johnson accounted for the first two runs in the fourth. In the fifth, Mackenzie Carson’s run-scoring groundout followed by a booming RBI double from Alexis Murdock into the right center field gap made it a 4-0 game in the fifth.

That was still the score an inning later when Chantilly came up to bat in its bottom of the sixth. Up to that point, the Chargers (4-4), a team made up totally of underclassmen with no seniors, had managed just two singles off of Centreville sophomore pitcher Courtney Burke, the hard-throwing right hander who had struck out nine and walked one over five shutout innings. Chantilly, which had seen its first five batters of the game strikeout, had looked overmatched up to that point.

But the Chargers were not about to go down without making some offensive noise. In their sixth, leadoff batter Wendy Sloan grounded a single to left field to start the inning.

Jennifer Loh, the next hitter, then reached on an error as Sloan moved to second. A wild pitch advanced both runners up a base before left-handed hitting Tori Doherty, a sophomore catcher, came up with her team’s best hit of the game when she launched a fly ball double into the right center field gap to score both runners. But the aggressive Doherty, in attempting to stretch the extra base hit into a triple, was thrown out at third on a well-executed relay play for the first out of the inning.

But Chantilly was still not through as its next two hitters – Laura Conaghan and Bryanna Kerbuski – both singled against the suddenly tiring Burke. That set up what proved to be the play of the game. With runners on first and second, Chantilly’s Rachel Major drilled a line drive which appeared to be headed into right field. But Holmes, the Centreville second baseman, immediately moved towards her left before making a brilliant, outstretched catch. The runners had been moving on the batted ball, so Holmes, following the catch, tossed the ball to first baseman Sokol for the rally-stopping double play.

Centreville had survived what could have been an even bigger inning for the Chargers, who entered the seventh trailing 4-2.

“It was definitely a clutch play,” said first year Centreville head coach Tracy Bennett, of second baseman Holmes’ nifty line drive snag which was turned into a twin killing. “That inning could have gotten out of hand quickly and they could have had a big inning.”

Neither team scored in the final inning. There were, however, a couple more outstanding fielding gems in that final, seventh inning as outfielders from both teams – Chantilly left fielder Major and Centreville right fielder Carson both made spectacular, reaching catches on well struck balls.

Both teams’ sophomore pitchers – Centreville’s Burke and Chantilly’s Emily Gembarowicz – had impressive outings. Burke finished with 10 strikeouts and held Chantilly scoreless in six of the seven innings. Gembarowicz, meanwhile, allowed just two hits while fanning 12. Three defensive errors by the Chargers during Centreville’s scoring innings (the fourth and fifth) hurt Chantilly’s cause. Gembarowicz, a hard thrower like her counterpart Burke, walked five.

<b>BENNETT</b>, the Wildcats’ coach, has enjoyed her first season at the helm of Centreville. She said the coaching staff and players have been on the same page from the start of the season.

“I think communication has been the key,” said Bennett, a former softball player at Div. 3 Chowan University (Murfreesboro, N.C.). “It’s hard coming into a brand new program and [bringing] a whole new philosophy to the players. But they have responded.”

Centreville’s previous wins this spring have come over Lake Braddock, Westfield and Herndon.

Centreville will be at home this Friday night at 6:30 versus Oakton.

Chantilly also has a new coach this season in Carmen Wise, who was an assistant coach within the program the past two years. She was pleased to see her team breakout offensively with four hits in the two-run sixth inning – an inning which almost turned the tide of the game around against Centreville.

“The bats woke up,” said Wise, of the sixth. “It’s a young team.”

The coach, who is assisted by Stephanie Jeter, said her most experienced player is junior center fielder Wendy Sloan. The Chargers are made up of six juniors, six sophomores and three freshmen.

“The challenge for our team is the mental game – having confidence in our playing ability and trying to put it all together,” said Wise, whose team has wins this season over T.C. Williams, West Springfield, Washington-Lee and Oakton. “We’ve been very up and down. A lot of it has been due to our age. What’s great is we’re steadily climbing the mountain.”

This Friday night, Chantilly will play another local rival when it hosts district opponent Westfield for a 6:30 game.