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Highlanders Reach Softball State Finals with Win Over Ocean Lakes

Pitcher Jamie Bell tosses complete game shutout.

Behind its second consecutive Virginia state AAA playoff game shutout, the McLean Highlanders’ girls softball team earned a 5-0 victory over Ocean Lakes (Virginia Beach) in a semifinals round game played Friday, June 11 at Westfield High School.

With the win, the Highlanders reached the following day’s finals where they defeated Lee-Davis High, 4-2, to gain its first-ever state championship crown.

McLean, runner-up at both the Liberty District and Northern Region tournament, had qualified for the eight-team state playoffs by virtue of reaching the region championship game. At states, the Highlanders met and defeated home team Battlefield High (Northwestern Region), 1-0, in a quarterfinals round game played June 8 in Haymarket.

That win, behind outstanding starting pitching from junior Jamie Bell, advanced McLean to the semifinals round meeting three days later against Ocean Lakes (Eastern Region) at Westfield. There, in front of a large, energetic crowd, the Highlanders received shutout pitching from Bell, who earned the complete game win, while also breaking through for multi-run innings in both the top of the fourth (two runs) and sixth (thee runs).

The Highlanders, which were held hitless over the first three innings by Dolphins’ pitcher Liz Riley, finished the game with five hits.

Bell, meanwhile, was sensational on the mound, allowing five singles in a complete game outing while striking out two and walking two. Ocean Lakes threatened to score runs in the game’s middle innings (third through fifth) but could not break through against the right-handed throwing Bell, who was backed up nicely by crisp defense from her fielders.

McLean committed no errors in the game. The Highlanders also made several noteworthy plays with the glove in helping make the shutout possible. In the bottom of the first inning, McLean senior center fielder Lauren Sutherland, with two outs and nobody on base for Ocean Side, made a nice running catch on a fly ball hit into right center field for the third out.

Bell worked herself out of a jam in the third when the Dolphins put runners on first and third with one out by getting a pop out bunt to third baseman Jessie Straub for the second out and then getting out of the inning with a come-backer to the mound.

McLean also escaped trouble in the fourth. The Highlanders got the first batter out of the inning thanks to a nice defensive play by second baseman Brittany McCray, who moved to her right on a groundball before fielding it and getting off a good throw to first baseman Megan Sullivan for the first out.

Bell then allowed a walk and a Texas league single as Ocean Lakes threatened with runners on first and second with one out. But Bell struck the next batter out and then coaxed an infield pop out, which turned into an adventure when Bell and third baseman Straub both went for the ball hit towards the left side of the infield just several yards up the third base line area. The two players collided, giving a scare to the McLean faithful, but Bell caught and hung onto the ball as both players fell hard to the ground. Neither was hurt, at least not seriously, and McLean was out of the inning.

OCEAN LAKES put together another threat in the fifth inning by putting runners on first and third with one out. Dolphins’ leadoff batter Aisha Figueroa started things off with an infield single before Maicie Hahn sent a fly ball into right center field. It looked as if the base hit would result in a double. But McLean right fielder Mary Spulak got to the ball then made an outstanding throw to second, resulting in Hahn electing to stay put on first.

With Ocean Lakes runners at the corners, McLean, leading 2-0 at the time, came up with perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game. With the base runner on first running, Bell struck out batter Sami Mignat swinging. McLean catcher Carolyn Gilbertson received the strike-three pitch then immediately rifled a throw to second base to nail Hahn attempting to steal. The unconventional strikeout, throw-out double play ended Ocean Lakes’ biggest scoring chance of the game and kept the Highlanders ahead, 2-0.

“I wasn’t real concerned with the runner, but wanted to get the batter,” said Gilbertson. “She swung at a good fastball on the outside. I happened to see the runner break early. Lauren McColgan was there [to take the throw] as long as I could get it to her.”

Gilbertson, indeed, got the ball to the shortstop.

“It was a good play on Carolyn’s part,” said McColgan, McLean’s senior shortstop who applied the tag on the double play. “I didn’t think she’d throw it because it was strike three and she might be thinking, ‘Cool, we got the strikeout.’”

Lauren Sutherland, McLean’s senior center fielder who saw the key play from her outfield position, said she knew Hahn was out before the umpire even made the call.

“I started running in before he even called it,” said Sutherland. “I saw the play. She was definitely out. Carolyn has a great arm.”

In the sixth, Dolphin batter Liz Riley gave McLean a scare when, with one out, she sent a long fly ball into deep left center field. But Highlander left fielder Allison Wilhelm ran the ball down for the second out before Bell got a third out infield pop up to end the inning.

In Ocean Lakes’ final at-bats in the seventh, pinch hitter Courtney Stewart, the inning’s first batter, hit a groundball into the hole between shortstop and third base. McColgan did an excellent job getting to the ball before making a long throw to first, barely getting Stewart for the first out. An infield pop-up and ground ball out to first baseman Sullivan followed and McLean had won.

MIDWAY IN THE GAME, MCLEAN BROKE a scoreless tie with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth inning. McColgan, McLean’s leadoff batter, hit a groundball single into center field before Bell, on a bunt play, reached first base on a throwing error with McColgan going to third. One out later, Gilbertson smacked a line drive double down the left field line, plating both runners to make the score 2-0 McLean.

“I knew I just had to get on base,” said Gilbertson, of her approach on that at-bat. “She threw it to the inside and I turned in on it and got an extra base hit.”

McLean did not score any more runs that inning, but effectively put the game out of reach two innings later in the sixth when the Highlanders scored three more runs. Bell started things off with a line drive single into center field. Straub then hit a hard groundball to third base which was not fielded cleanly, allowing Bell to advance to second and Straub to reach first. Gilbertson, McLean’s clean-up batter, then came through once again with an RBI single into center field to make the score 3-0. Wilhelm followed with a two-run line drive double down the left field line to make it 5-0. Ocean Lakes got out of the inning with no more runs allowed but the damage had been done.

McLean went on to win the game by the 5-0 score and then captured the state crown the next day. For a team that had lost a disappointing region title game to Madison a week earlier, the three-game sweep at states was an amazing accomplishment.

“We have worked so hard the last four years,” said Sutherland. “Last year we thought we could get [to the state tournament] but fell short [with a loss in the region semifinals to South County]. After the loss to Madison last week, we said we couldn’t let it get to us because [states] was the only thing that [ultimately] mattered.”