Going into Wednesday’s Northern Region girls’ softball semifinals game against Marshall, the Madison Warhawks knew enough about their Liberty District and Vienna-area rivals not to take the underdog Statesmen lightly.
“They’re one of those teams that will sneak up and surprise you,” said Madison senior shortstop Khristin Kyllo, of the Marshall team.
Indeed, Marshall did put up a good fight in the region postseason contest, played the evening of June 2 at Robinson High School. But Madison, behind pitching ace Sam Brady, was just a bit better in a 2-0 shutout victory over the Statesmen, who entered the 16-team region tournament as the No. 4-seed from out of the Liberty District.
Brady, a junior right hander who had tossed a perfect game and a no-hitter in Madison’s first two region playoff wins over Mount Vernon and Centreville, continued her playoff dominance against the Statesmen, allowing just three singles over seven innings while striking out 11 and walking two. Along with her fastball, Brady occasionally threw her change-up pitch to keep the Statesmen batters off balance.
“I just try to stay loose on the mound and focused,” said Brady, following her team’s win over a scrappy, winning Marshall squad which had beaten both Hayfield and Woodson to reach the region’s final four. “Our defense did awesome. They always do.”
Madison (24-2), with the win, advanced to this Friday night’s region title game where it will face another district rival – McLean. The Highlanders (23-4-1), who lost to Madison a couple of weeks ago, 5-4, in the district tournament finals, defeated defending region champion South County, 3-0, on Wednesday in the evening’s second semifinals game at Robinson.
Both Madison and McLean, by reaching the region title game, automatically earned a seeding at next week’s eight-team state AAA tournament.
Marshall, which lost all four games it played against Madison this season, finished a highly successful season at 17-8.
Brady, in Wednesday’s region playoff meeting, allowed a single to right field to the game’s first batter, Marshall center fielder Olivia Ellis, before striking out the next three Marshall hitters to retire the side. After that, she did not allow another base hit until the top of the sixth inning when freshman Meghan McNabb, Marshall’s No. 9 batter in the line-up, sent a soft single into right center field.
That sixth inning was the toughest for Brady, who later in the inning went on to walk two batters – Mina Dunn and star catcher Michelle Tilson. But the Warhawks made two outstanding plays to squelch Marshall’s rally – the first coming when Madison catcher EmJ Fogel made an outstanding throw to first baseman Ally Grasso to pick off a Marshall base runner.
The second huge play of the inning for Madison came with two outs and Marshall base runners on first and second. The batter, Marshall clean-up hitter Christine Grilliot, grounded a single into center field. Laura Wolff, the Madison center fielder, fielded the ball and threw a laser towards home. The ball got past catcher Fogel and went to the backstop. Fogel then retrieved the ball before making a quick toss to pitcher Brady, who was covering home. Brady applied the tag on the base runner trying to score from second and the inning was over.
“That’s the first time I’ve actually gotten dirty all season,” said Brady, with a smile.
That sixth inning was Marshall’s best chance to get on the scoreboard. In the Statesmens’ final at-bats in the seventh, Brady retired the side in order, ending the game with a strikeout.
<b>MADISON SCORED SINGLE</b> runs in both the bottom of the second and fifth innings to account for the games’ only runs. Brady led off the second inning with a line drive double down the left field line off Grilliot, the Marshall pitching ace. Three batters later, with two outs and Brady still on second, Kyllo, the Warhawks’ terrific shortstop, grounded a single up the middle and into center field to score courtesy runner Michelle Mittel to give Madison a 1-0 lead. Kyllo, from her No. 7 spot in the batting line-up, would go on to get on base two more times in the game – by a walk in the fourth inning and on a double down the right field line in the sixth.
“This game, our team was struggling at the plate,” said Kyllo. “I knew I had to pick my team up. That’s what I tried to do in the game. I’ve faced Christine so many times in my four years.”
Madison’s second run came in the fifth inning on an RBI line drive single into left field by Stephanie Buchko with one out. Fogel, who had walked one batter earlier before going to second on a wild pitch, scored on the base hit to make the score 2-0.
Marshall made a couple of outstanding defensive plays in the game. In the Madison fourth with Warhawk base runners on first and second with no outs, Wolff hit a fly ball into center field. Ellis, the Marshall center fielder, made the catch and then threw out a Madison runner trying to get to third base on a tag up. Third baseman Dunn applied the tag.
Later, in the Madison sixth inning, Dunn made a spectacular diving catch to her left on a ball hit by Grasso to retire the side.
It was a great win for Madison, now set to meet the Highlanders for the region title – the fourth meeting between the two teams this season. Madison and McLean split a pair of games during the regular season before the Warhawks edged the Highlanders in the district tourney finals.
And the win over Marshall, of course, qualified Madison for states as well.
“That’s awesome,” said Brady. “Getting to states this year was definitely one of our goals. We’re really excited about that.”
“This is my first time going to states and it’s pretty overwhelming,” said Kyllo.