Already, the 2011 spring season for the Herndon High girls' softball team has been a success. Yes, there are still a couple of weeks remaining in the regular season and lots to still accomplish for the Hornets, but the seven victories the team had accumulated going into this week was quite impressive for a program which had won one and three games, respectively, in each of the previous two seasons.
Herndon, clearly an up-and-coming team under third year head coach Roy Amps, looked to be on the verge of perhaps its signature win of the season last Friday night, April 29 when it appeared to have a solid Oakton High team on the ropes four innings into the Concorde District contest played on the Hornets' home diamond. The underdog Herndon team led the talented Cougars by three runs and looked to be relatively in control and on way to gaining a key district upset victory.
But Oakton, which had been struggling both at the plate and in the field over the first four innings, revived in a big time way thereafter, breaking through for 10 runs in the top half of the fifth inning on way to an impressive 17-4 win over the host Hornets. The contest was halted following six innings as a result of the 10-run mercy rule. Oakton, with the comeback win, improved its overall record to 7-2-1 and 4-1 in district play. Herndon, meanwhile, saw its record fall to 7-5 overall and 1-2 in the district.
"Once one or two got on base, it was kind of contagious," said Ray Gordon, the Oakton head coach, of the turnaround fifth inning in which the Cougars, who trailed 4-1 going into the inning, brought 14 players to the plate.
Gordon said the Oakton batters waited on the pitches better after the fourth inning, making sure the pitches they swung at were strikes and often going to the opposite field with their batted balls. Oakton, which had four hits and one run over the first four innings, tallied nine hits in the decisive fifth and 14 over the game's final two innings.
"We have the tendency to come out in games not so hot," said Oakton junior catcher and team tri-captain Mandy Krage, of the Cougars' tendency at times to get off to slow starts. Myself and the other captains [over the first several innings] were just trying to keep the girls motivated."
Whatever the rallying cry was Oakton's captains and coaching staff worked as the Cougars looked to be a highly motivated team in the latter innings. Once the hits and runners accumulated over the fifth and sixth innings, more and more energy filled the Oakton dugout and the Cougars were alive with vigor at having taken over the game.
"They just had lots of hits," said Amps, the Herndon coach. "But the big thing with us is we kept hustling. On [Oakton] hits we were getting the ball quickly back into the infield."
The Herndon defense did commit a couple of fielding errors in the Oakton breakout fifth inning. But more than anything, the Oakton bats simply came to life. Key hits in that inning came from Becky Serva and Emily Krisanda, who both smacked doubles off of the center field fence with Krisanda's two-bagger accounting for two runs. Later in the inning, Serva, a freshmen, also sent a ball the opposite way down the right field line for a two-run triple. (In the sixth inning she added a two-run double to her big night).
Other key hits for Oakton in the fifth came on RBI singles from both Hayley French and Abby Mills, and a two-run single by Emily Corridon. The Cougars added six more runs in the sixth inning. Big base hits in that inning came from Krisanda (RBI double), French (RBI single), Kelsea Sinnett (double), and Angie Noviello (2-run single).
<b>OAKTON'S ALANA PETERS</b>, a freshman making her second varsity pitching appearance since recently being called up from the JV, started and pitched three innings for the Cougars. She allowed an unearned run in the first before retiring the Hornets in order in the second. In the third, Herndon touched the hard-throwing ninth grader up for four singles and three runs.
Cerva, another freshman, took over in relief in the fourth inning for Oakton and went three perfect innings to earn the win.
Oakton pitcher Allison Davis, another ninth grader, has been on the mound much of the season for the Cougars and been instrumental to the team's success both on the hill (80 strikeouts) and at the plate (14 RBIs). But she was injured early last week during Oakton's 9-3 district loss to Westfield.
Another Oakton pitcher, sophomore Kayla Sweeney, began the season as Davis' backup but fell ill early in the spring and has not been able to play since.
With Davis unavailable, Gordon elected to start Peters, who undoubtedly will help Oakton the remainder of the season.
Cerva, although not as hard-throwing, was outstanding in relief against Herndon, hitting her spots and showing great poise on the mound.
"She's a battler and gave a great effort tonight both at the plate and on the mound," said Gordon.
Krage, the team's starting catcher and a team leader, is confident about Oakton's pitching staff despite its youth.
"I definitely trust them out there," she said. "Even though they might not have as much experience, they can still come through. They all have pitches that work for them."
Krage, who had a single and reached base three times from the Oakton clean-up position, took a hard foul tip off her facemask/helmet from her catching position early in the game. As a result, Krage's catching helmet, which she had used for six years, was cracked and had to be replaced. The foul tip, naturally, shook the catcher up a bit and she spent a few minutes gathering herself afterwards. But she hung in there and continued to play, using another helmet.
"I probably get a foul ball to the head once a game now," said Krage. "I just shake it off and take a couple of breaths."
<b>HERNDON</b> freshman pitcher Sarah Kurtz, who has had an outstanding first season for the Hornets as the team's starting pitcher, held Oakton to one unearned run over the first four innings before the Cougars' bats got rolling thereafter. Kurtz was relieved in the fifth by teammate Michelle Le, who pitched the final 1-2/3 innings.
Highlights for Herndon at the plate included a first inning RBI single from Heather Ferguson, third inning RBI singles from Kurtz (2 runs scored) and Morgan Fries, and a third inning sacrifice fly from Ferguson. Other base hits for Herndon in the loss came from Carly Shue and Destinee Beckham.
Herndon was scheduled to play district home games this week versus Centreville on Tuesday, May 3 and Westfield on Wednesday, May 4, followed by another game versus Westfield this Friday night at 6:30 on the road.
Oakton, meanwhile, was scheduled to play at district opponent Chantilly on Tuesday, May 3 before taking on guest team and non-Northern Region opponent Battlefield High on Wednesday. This Friday night at 6:30, the Cougars will host district rival Robinson.