Highlanders Hoping to Take That Next Step

Highlanders Hoping to Take That Next Step

McLean softball just missed making the state playoffs last year.

A year ago, the Mclean High softball team came oh, so close to qualifying for the Virginia State AAA playoffs. After reaching the Northern Region semifinals, the Highlanders’ season ended with an extra innings loss to South County. A win over the Stallions would have advanced McLean to the region title game and automatically qualified them for the state tournament.

Certainly, 2009, even with the tough, season-ending loss, was a wonderful spring for the Highlanders, who captured the Liberty District regular season title and, at the 16-team region playoffs, won a pair of postseason games. But coming so close but not quite making the state playoffs was a tough way for the season to close.

Now, McLean is as determined as ever to go at least one step further this spring. With its entire team back from last year, the Highlanders will make for a difficult game for any opponent.

“This year everybody has the same goal in mind,” said veteran Mclean coach Maurice Tawil. “We were one game away from going to states.”

McLean, which finished 20-5 overall last year, was scheduled to open up the new season on Tuesday, March 23, of this week with a district game at Marshall. Two days later, on Thursday, the Highlanders will play another district road game at Jefferson.

Marshall, which over the pre-season schedule won games over Robinson and Westfield, while playing South County to a 1-1 tie, will be traveling to Myrtle Beach, S.C. this Saturday to take part in next week’s Grand Strand tournament over spring break. From March 29 through April 2, the Highlanders will play teams from South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia.

McLean’s first game after its return from the spring break trip will be its home opener against district opponent South Lakes on Tuesday evening, April 6 at 6:30.

McLean went 13-1 in district play a year ago. The Highlanders fell to Marshall in the district tournament semifinals for their lone district setback. This season, the Liberty will once again provide plenty of stellar competition. But McLean is strong in all areas of the game – on the mound, defensively in the field and with the bats on offense – and will force opposing teams to have to play outstanding ball in order to beat them.

“We have a multi-talented offense,” said Tawil. “At the top of the line-up we have speed and can play small ball.”

And the heart of the McLean order, with such standout batters as senior outfielder Lauren Sutherland, senior catcher Carolyn Gilbertson and sophomore outfielder Allison Wilhelm hitting third through fifth, respectively, could fuel one of the better line-ups in the region.

McLean’s offense was outstanding last year and will likely be so again this season.

“I can’t find very many faults with how we played last year,” said Tawil. “We put a lot of people on base.”

<b>LAUREN MCCOLGAN</b>, McLean’s senior shortstop who has committed to play the sport collegiately at George Mason University next school year, will once again be at the top of McLean’s batting order. As a junior, McColgan earned All-District, All-Region and All-State accolades and .497 for the season.

“She’s a fierce competitor and she is like a coach on the field,” said Tawil, of his shortstop. “She’s eager to be a leader, she’s athletic and she’s a dynamic hitter. She’s also fast and just a complete player. She was our leading hitter last year.”

McColgan and teammate Brittany McCray, a senior second baseman, will give McLean a terrific defensive middle of the infield. McCray was an All-District second baseman last year.

“She’s very athletic and it’s hard to get a ball past her,” said Tawil, of McCray. “She covers an amazing amount of ground.”

During the preseason game against Westfield, McCray, on a looping pop fly over the second base bag, made a sensational tumbling, shoe-string catch, providing the exhibition contest’s fielding highlight.

Another top infielder for McLean this season will be senior first baseman Megan Sullivan, a second team All-District selection in 2009.

In the outfield, Sutherland, who made honorable mention All-State last year, is one of the region’s best center fielders.

Sutherland and junior pitcher Jamie Bell will both give the Highlanders outstanding pitching. Both players saw plenty of action on the hill last year and both will do the same this season. Bell was 8-1 last year with an ERA just over one. She throws several pitches and is outstanding at locating the ball to either side of the plate, or in the upper or lower zones.

Bell and Sutherland will be pitching to battery mate Gilbertson, the team’s talented catcher and clean-up batter.

McLean is ready for a successful season of district and region softball.

“We’re excited about the season,” said Tawil.