The McLean softball team was anything but distraught after losing the Northern Region softball final on June 3 at Madison High School.
After all, the Highlanders had been here before --- and everything turned out great.
Westfield defeated McLean, 4-3, to win the region championship on Friday. The Bulldogs scored the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning on a walk-off hit by sophomore Caitlin Rudy, leaving McLean as the region runner-up for the second straight season.
After last year’s loss to Madison in the region final, McLean regrouped and won three straight games en route to the state championship. After Friday’s loss, the Highlanders discussed what they accomplished last season.
"If we can love each other for one more week and play good ball, I think we can do what we did last year," head coach Maurice Tawil said. "No tears [after Friday’s loss]. We don’t have a lot of that on this team. We went into a little swoon last year when we lost a very difficult [region championship] game. It took a little while to pick us back up and I just asked them that I don’t want to repeat that. I want to come back and practice hard and try to win three games, just like we did last year.
"We have some experience to draw on."
On Friday, McLean overcame a pair of one-run deficits before tying the score at 3-3 in the sixth inning. Westfield was in position to regain the lead in the bottom half, but McLean center fielder Mary Spulak threw out Jessica McNamara at home plate when the Bulldog shortstop attempted to tag up on a fly ball.
Westfield catcher Lexi Scoville led off the bottom of the seventh with a single. Courtesy runner Courtney Mecimore advanced to second a sacrifice bunt and Rudy drove her in with a hit to the gap in left-center.
"We threw a girl out from center field and she’s one of the fastest girls in the region," Tawil said. "We threw a girl out on a suicide squeeze [in the third inning]. Our defense was pretty good. We took away two runs for them. We caught up twice. I’m very, very proud of the way we played. …
"We said all along if we’re going to lose a game, let them win it. They came in and got a pure base hit [in the seventh], moved her over with a bunt, got another pure base hit in the gap --- there’s not much you can do about that. Not much my pitcher can do about that --- she might want that pitch back --- but no shame is losing like that."
After falling behind 1-0, McLean scored a pair of runs in the third inning to take its only lead of the game. Pitcher Jamie Bell led off the frame with a double and third baseman Jessie Straub tied the score two batters later with a sacrifice fly. Right fielder Allison Wilhelm then gave the Highlanders the lead with a solo home run to left-center.
Bell suffered the loss for McLean, but it was the senior’s dominance in the circle during the semifinals that helped the Highlanders advance to the state tournament. Bell threw a perfect game against South County during a 4-0 victory on June 1 at Robinson Secondary School.
"She was just outstanding," Tawil said of Bell’s effort against the Stallions. "They’re a good team, they were playing very good. She has a no-quit attitude. She’s the most fierce competitor that you ever want to see. We got into some jams [on Friday] and you saw how she bore down. … She’s been fantastic. If we’re going to lose, we’re going to lose with her … [pitching] that way."
McLean traveled to Chesapeake to face Hickory in the opening round of the state tournament on June 7, after The Connection’s deadline.