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McLean Softball Returns to Region Final Four

Breakout sixth inning paves the way for coach Tawil’s Highlanders.

Westfield High girls’ softball coach Dean Ferington could not have been more pleased with how his team’s Northern Region quarterfinals round playoff matchup against heavy-hitting McLean was going on Monday. The Bulldogs, in the Memorial Day evening playoff encounter against the Highlanders at Falls Church High School, had built a 3-0 lead and had just two more innings remaining in a game which would send the winner to the region semifinals.

“I thought we were doing a good job of keeping them in check for five innings,” said Ferington, whose team entered the 16-team region tournament as the champions of the Concorde District. “Our pitcher was rolling along.”

But McLean, which had been shutout just once all season long – that coming in a 2-0 loss to area private school power house Bishop O’Connell on April 29 – finally broke through with a game-changing, five-run top of the sixth inning on way to a 5-4 come-from-behind win.

With the win, the Highlanders (23-4-1), the Liberty District runner-ups this season, were set to advance to the semifinals on Wednesday evening, June 2 where they were to meet South County at Robinson High School. It marks the second straight year in which McLean has gone to the region final four. Last year, McLean was eliminated there by the same Stallions team it was ready to face on Wednesday.

Just getting by Westfield and back into the region semis looked to be unlikely to most onlookers in Monday’s holiday matchup when the Bulldogs broke a scoreless tie with three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning.

But one person who never lost heart was McLean coach Maurice Tawil, who on numerous occasions in recent years has seen his team’s bats change the course of a game. And that was the case Monday against the talented Bulldogs as McLean, which had managed just two hits over the first five innings off of Westfield pitcher Alex Tenney, burst through for five runs on six hits in the top half of the sixth to take a 5-3 lead.

“People were writing our eulogy when it was 3-0,” said Tawil, with a smile. “But I know we can explode offensively.”

McLean batted around the order in the decisive sixth. Leadoff hitter Lauren McColgan doubled into right center field to begin the inning before Jamie Bell walked to set up runners on first and second. One out later, with runners now at second and third, Carolyn Gilbertson, the team’s catcher, got McLean onto the scoreboard when she knocked a two-run single into right center field to get the Highlanders within 3-2. Allison Wilhelm then hit a ball off the center field fence but was held to a single because Gilbertson, the base runner on first, was unsure whether Westfield center fielder Kacey McMahon would be able to get back and make a catch or not.

So, with runners on first and second, Lauren Sutherland came to bat. She sent a ball deep into right field for a run-scoring double which tied the game at 3-3.

Ferington then made the decision to replace Tenney on the mound with reliever Jen Goodman. Later, the coach blamed himself for waiting too long into the inning before making the pitching change.

Megan Sullivan, McLean’s No. 7 hitter, hit a two-run single into right field off Goodman to give McLean its first lead at 5-3.

Goodman, a senior, retired two of the next three batters to finally end the tough half inning for her team.

“We had a real hard time hitting [Tenney] but we knew we could still hit the ball,” said Gilbertson, of her team’s breakout inning. “We realized it was [score some runs] or go home.”

“We hit some balls into the gap,” said Tawil, of his team’s sixth inning breakout.

Westfield, in its half of the sixth, got a two-out, solo home run from sophomore first baseman Carrie Otroba, who sent a soaring ball over the left field fence to get the Bulldogs within 5-4.

Later, in Westfield’s final at-bats, Bell, the McLean pitcher, finished up a demanding, up and down complete game outing with a 1-2-3 inning to end the game.

“It was real, real hot out there,” said catcher Gilbertson, talking about her batterymate’s gritty mound showing over seven innings. “We’re not used to playing in 90 degree weather. She did real well and I’m real proud of her.”

Bell, McLean’s steady, innings-eater pitcher, allowed just four hits all game – three singles and the homer by Otroba. She struck out just one and walked two.

<b>WESTFIELD</b> used all its resourcefulness to scratch out three runs in the fourth inning to go ahead 3-0. Frankie Martinez began the inning by coaxing a walk after working the count full. She then moved to second on Jess McNamara’s groundball single into center field. Kacey McMahon moved both base runners up with a sacrifice bunt. Then, Otroba executed a perfect squeeze bunt, scoring Martinez and reaching first base herself on the fielder’s choice. That made it 1-0. The next hitter, Alex Burnham, then hit a groundout RBI to make it 2-0. The Bulldogs’ final run of the inning came when Alex Bohrer’s batted ball resulted in an error.

Bell, thereafter, allowed just one run over the next three innings, keeping her team in the game. Nothing came easy for the right hander in the game – she had escaped a second and third scenario with no outs in the second – but she had hung in there.

“We couldn’t deliver the knockout punch on her,” said Ferington.

Westfield’s base hits in the game came from clean-up hitting shortstop McNamara (2 hits, 1 run), Otroba (home run) and Tenney (single). McLean’s hits came from McColgan (double), Jessie Straub (single), Gilbertson (2 singles), Wilhelm (single), Sutherland (double), Sullivan (single), Mary Spulak (single) and Grace Henry.

Overall, it was a wonderful season for Westfield (16-8), which met McLean in the quarterfinals after having defeated Annandale in a first round game.

“We played a brutal schedule and competed,” said Ferington. “The kids did a nice job.”