On an evening when battling a lesser known disease, lupus, was the theme, cross-town girls’ softball opponents West Springfield and Lee high schools brought their bats out and gave the large group of supportive fans a hitting showcase in an exciting, never dull, 13-12 contest that was won by the home team Lancers. The Patriot District game took place Tuesday evening, May 3 at Lee High School in the heart of Springfield.
“That was absolutely the cherry on top,” said Lancers’ head coach Suzy Willemssen, thrilled with her young team’s triumph that capped a special Lupus Awareness Night benefit in which those in attendance gave more than $400 to the Lupus Foundation of America, an organization that helps fight the disease that affects 80,000 individuals, mostly women, throughout the local metropolitan area.
The guest of honor during pre-game ceremonies which put the spotlight on fighting lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation which can damage major organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain and skin, into the forefront of spectators’ minds on the evening was former Lee High girls’ soccer coach Janice Wolfe-Easley, a Fairfax County teacher of 33 years who most recently, before going on medical disability in October 2009, served as an adaptive physical education teacher, for special need students. Wolfe-Easley, diagnosed in May 2009, was on hand to mingle, educate and enjoy the ball game, being played in her honor, along with everyone else in attendance. She even threw out the first pitch, an underhand, softball-style strike to Lancer catcher Manal Assad, much to the pleasure of the fans.
“Aside from tonight’s fundraiser, awareness is what’s so important,” said Wolfe-Easley, who later in the same day in which she was diagnosed with lupus gained permission from her doctor to participate in a benefit walk event for the fight against breast cancer.
But in recent years, Wolfe-Easley, the former Lancers’ head girls’ soccer coach, who led the Lee team to the state crown in 1985, has been unable to be nearly as physically active as she once was as a result of her illness.
“So many don’t know what lupus is. I didn’t until two years ago,” said Wolfe-Easley, who, during her 11-year head-coaching career, also coached and led the W.T. Woodson High girls’ soccer team to a state finals appearance.
Joan Tadlock, who coached Lee High softball the past few years and is currently an assistant coach for the Lancers, was thrilled to have Wolfe-Easley on-hand. The two originally got to know one another in their work as adaptive P.E. teachers. The popular and loved Tadlock, an advocate for both her special education students as well as for causes such as lupus and breast cancer, set up the benefit night in honor of Wolfe-Easley, her good friend. She was the emcee of the pre-game awareness night program and introduced Wolfe-Easley, along with the guest’s husband and sister, to the crowd.
Also introduced was Lori Barb, the Lee High director of student activities, and Lee junior softball player Alissa Fetterholf, who spear-headed the effort to design and wear special home style softball T-shirts, designed with a whirlwind color scheme of purple, the color that symbolizes the hope and determination to one day conquer the debilitating lupus disease, and white. Players themselves wrote their handwritten names and numbers on back of the special, one-day uniform tops.
THE LEE HIGH TEAM, throughout the high-scoring game, played with the enthusiasm and energy befitting of the night’s special meaning. The visiting Spartans did the same, creating a game, which, while far from being mistake-free, was entertaining and played with passion.
With the game tied at 10-10, Lee, which at one time had led West Springfield, 10-3, came up with three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to take a 13-10 lead. Jess Harmon led off the inning with an infield single and ultimately came around to score the go-ahead run. Later that inning, a key two-run single into center field off the bat of senior Sarah Wilber plated two more runs to give the Lancers a three-run advantage.
West Springfield, though, kept the game exciting by scoring two runs in the top of the sixth inning. Alissa Dwyer started the rally with an infield base hit and later scored on a groundout RBI by teammate Carisa Chaplin to make the score 13-11. Later in the inning, Hannah Tomey singled and ultimately scored from third on a wild pitch to get the Spartans within 13-12.
West Springfield pitcher Marissa Johnson, who pitched the entire game for the Spartans and got better and better as the contest went on, held Lee scoreless in the bottom of the sixth.
That set up West Springfield’s final at-bats. With one out, Calli Douglas, the potential tying run, earned a walk and stole both second and third base. But Lee pitcher Ashley Robinson, who entered the game in the fourth inning after Lancer starting pitcher Amanda Layton had gone the first three innings, buckled down, coaxing an infield pop-up for the second out and a groundball out to end the ball game. Lancer second baseman Beth Clay made all three put-outs — two groundball outs, one pop-up catch — in that final inning, including a scorching groundball pick-up and throw-out on a ball hit off the bat of Lindsey Kellogg to begin the inning.
Following the final out, the Lee players celebrated on the field, hugging one another and jumping up and down excitedly. It was the Lancers’ sixth win of the season to 10 losses.
“They never quit, and they fought back,” said Willemssen, the Lee coach, of her team’s mindset during both the game and season. “They know they have to play as a team. On this team everyone has an impact, instead of having that one stud pitcher with everyone standing back. Everyone on this team counts.”
Robinson, who pitched the final four innings for Lee, earned the win on the mound.
Lee, defensively, came up with some sparkling plays throughout the game. Robinson, who played center field over the first three innings, made a stellar first inning catch, swiftly moving to her left, on a ball hit by Johnson. In the third inning, the Lancers’ cut down a run at the plate when third baseman Natalie Heinitz, with Spartan runners on second and third, fielded a groundball and quickly threw home to catcher Assad, who applied the tag of a sliding runner. Then, on a ball hit into left field by the next batter, Lancer outfielder Fetterholf came up with a difficult, reaching catch. Late in the game, Harmon, who had been inserted in left field, caught a sizzling liner off the bat of Chandler Cole.
West Springfield (5-12) showed lots of heart in coming back from deficits of 10-3 and 13-10 and nearly winning. The Spartans had a big night at the plate with 14 hits, including three-hit games from Tomey and Dwyer, and two-hit showings from Cole, Johnson and Jessica Tarter.
“We were hitting the ball and aggressive at bat,” said West Springfield coach Rob Benton. “The kids weren’t tentative in swinging and hitting the ball.”