Hayfield Secondary’s season-ending 9-0 girls’ softball loss to McLean High on Memorial Day, May 30, was enough to convince Hawks’ head coach Ron Giovannucci that the Highlanders are the real deal.
The Northern Region quarterfinals round playoff game took place on a hot evening at Falls Church High School, the host site of all four of the quarterfinals round contests played throughout Monday’s holiday.
Hayfield, part of the National District, finished the season with an impressive 20-2-1 overall record. The Hawks thrived in the National District, considered to be the weakest of the region’s four districts in softball. Their lone district setback this season took place a couple weeks ago on May 19 when they lost to Mount Vernon, 2-1, in the district tournament semifinals. The team’s only loss prior to that had come against Westfield, 6-1, way back on March 29 early during the regular season. Westfield, an annual region contender, was victorious over Chantilly in one of Monday’s earlier quarterfinals games at Falls Church.
Following the loss to Mount Vernon at the district semifinals, Hayfield bounced back nicely with a 5-1 home win over Robinson in a first round region playoff game on Friday, May 27, to advance to Monday’s encounter with McLean, the defending state AAA champion. But the Highlanders played a solid all-around game to end Hayfield’s season.
“We just got beat by a good team,” said Giovannucci, following the game with McLean. “They’re defending state champions and played like it. They’re the best team I’ve seen all year with pitching, defense and hitting. I’ll be surprised if they don’t win [states again].”
Giovannucci, the longtime coach of the Hawks, said his team had not faced the caliber of pitcher it saw in McLean’s Jamie Bell on Monday. Bell, a senior, was the Highlanders’ starting pitcher on way to the state crown last year and is considered perhaps the region’s top pitcher.
“We haven’t seen pitching like that,” said Giovannucci, of the right-handed throwing Bell. “She’s real good at moving the ball around. … We’re in the National District and the competition is not that good. We won all our district games except to Mount Vernon in the district semifinals. We got a little complacent after going undefeated in the regular season.”
With the win over Hayfield, McLean saw its record improve to 22-3. The Highlanders, the top seeded team from their Liberty District, defeated Stone Bridge, 4-1, in the May 23 district championship game at Madison High School. They then went on to defeat Lake Braddock, 4-2, last Friday night at home in a first round game at regionals to advance to the meeting with Hayfield.
McLean is next scheduled to play South County in a region semifinals game set to take place on Wednesday, June 1 of this week at Robinson. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m., following the other semifinals round contest between Westfield and Oakton. The two semifinals round winners will meet for the title game Friday, June 3, at 6:30 p.m., at Madison High in Vienna.
McLean is looking for its first-ever region crown. A year ago, the Highlanders lost in the region finals to Madison before going on to win the state tournament.
Wednesday’s region semifinals round game versus South County will mark the third consecutive year in which the two teams have met in the round of four. Two years ago, the Stallions defeated McLean in a semifinals affair on way to capturing the region championship. Last year, McLean defeated the Stallions in the semifinals to earn an automatic bid to states.
“This is our third year at the semifinals and we’ve faced South County every year,” said Bell, the McLean pitching ace.
South County, under first year head coach Gary Dillow, won its fifth consecutive Patriot District tournament two weeks ago. On Memorial Day, the Stallions defeated Chantilly, 5-4, to move on to the region semis.
HAYFIELD, in the holiday loss to McLean, had several opportunities to touch Bell and the Highlanders up for some runs, but could not break through against the All-Liberty District pitching standout. Over six innings, Bell, in the shutout win, allowed five base hits (all singles) while striking out six and walking two.
By the middle innings, Bell had a nice lead to work with after McLean had scored a run in the bottom of the second, four in the third, and three more in the fourth to take a commanding 8-0 advantage. Bell retired the side in order just two times — in the first and fifth innings.
In the second, Hayfield had runners on first and second with one out following a pop fly single into left center field by senior catcher Samantha Perry. But Bell retired the next two Hawks’ batters on groudouts to first baseman Lauren Hahne, the latter grounder resulting in a nifty, backhanded pickup by the sophomore fielder.
In the fourth, Hayfield’s first two batters reached base — pitcher Amber Fowler reaching by walk and shortstop Megan Perry Shifflett grounding a single up the middle to advance Fowler to second. Bell struck out the next two batters
before walking Jessica Reynolds to load the bases. But she got another strikeout to get out of the jam. The Hawks also had a chance to score in the sixth with two outs and runners on first and second as a result of singles by both Fowler and Taryn McElhenny. But Bell forced a comebacker to end that threat.
Maurice Tawil, the McLean coach, saw much of the day’s earlier quarterfinals round games before his team took the field. He said Bell stood out among pitchers in quarterfinals action.
“It was probably the most dominant pitching performance I saw on the day,” said Tawil.
McLean hit the ball well throughout the game and had nine hits. Junior right fielder Allison Wilhelm (2 hits, 2 runs), in a scoreless tie, opened the bottom of the second inning with a fly ball double off of the left field fence and later scored the game’s first run on a sacrifice fly by catcher Maddie Moore. The Highlanders broke the game open in the third inning by scoring four times.