When South County pitcher Rebecca Martin hurled her 178th delivery of the evening past West Potomac's Elani Gonzalez for strike three and the final out of the Patriot District championship game, the freshman right-hander casually turned, walked to the back of the pitching circle and picked up her rosin bag.
Her teammates weren't so calm.
The Stallions swarmed Martin after her 17th strikeout ended a 12-inning marathon, clinching a 2-0 South County victory on Monday, May 23 and the program's fifth consecutive district title.
Martin and West Potomac's Morgan Maniglia traded zeros during an epic pitching-duel at West Springfield High School. Both pitchers shut out the opposing lineup for 11 innings before South County freshman third baseman Caitlin Maglich delivered a two-out, two-run single off Maniglia in the 12th. Martin retired the Wolverines in order in the bottom half, striking out the final two batters.
Martin allowed just one hit, a leadoff single in the first inning. She walked six, hit three batters and struck out 17. She worked her way out of several jams with the poise of a senior, and even looked subdued after the final out while her ecstatic teammates celebrated.
"She just seems very low key," first-year head coach Gary Dillow said. "She's a freshman. Maybe part of it is she doesn't totally understand the whole thing. All year she's just been kind of very laid back, very mellow, the perfect demeanor you want to have for a pitcher, especially in this kind of situation, 12 innings for the district title."
Dillow said he considered taking Martin out of the game when she struggled with her control in the middle innings, but she worked her way out of trouble thanks in part to several clutch defensive plays.
Martin threw nine consecutive balls to start the bottom of the fourth inning, but got out of the frame with a strikeout and a double play. She also walked two in the fifth inning, but prevented any damage with three strikeouts. Two walks and an error loaded the bases for West Potomac in the ninth, but freshman shortstop Whitney Burks saved the game for the Stallions when she fielded a slow groundball and threw to first in time for an out.
"I'm just really proud because my team was making a lot of plays behind me in some tough situations and really were working together to hit the ball," Martin said. "I just kind of stepped back and took a few deep breaths [when I got into trouble] and I trusted that my team would make plays for me and they did."
Martin split time in the circle this season with freshman Kyra Ketch. The duo took over for 2010 Virginia Softball Gatorade Player of the Year Chelsey Dunham, who tallied more than 1,000 strikeouts during her four-year career with the Stallions and now pitches at Yale. Dunham was a spectator at Monday's game and called Martin's performance "fantastic."
Dillow was an assistant coach during the program's first five seasons and witnessed many a dominant performance by Dunham. After Monday's game, Dillow placed Martin's effort near the top of his list.
"This ranks right up there because it is so unexpected," he said. "To go 12 innings against this great hitting team and under these circumstances, I'm speechless. It's beyond me. It's one of the best pitching performances I've ever seen."
Martin said she used five pitches — fastball, change up, rise ball, curve and slow curve — during the championship game, a repertoire that left the Wolverines befuddled.
"She had a crazy backspin," Maniglia said the day after the game. "Something was going on [and] we couldn't pick up on it. We've never hit off something like that."
Martin threw 115 of 178 pitches for strikes and wracked up a big strikeout total despite throwing with less-than-blazing velocity.
"It's not about velocity with her," Dillow said. "It's all about movement, changing speeds, changing levels and changing locations. She just keeps the hitters off balance."
Offensively, South County managed just two hits, both by center fielder Julia Kastner, prior to the 12th inning, when Maglich delivered a clutch two-run single to center.
"I couldn't get anxious," Maglich said. "I had to wait on the ball, wait for mine. I haven't been hitting very well lately. When I saw that pitch, I knew it was it. The feeling of it coming off the bat was just unreal. It's the best feeling in softball. I was about to cry when I got on base. It's just so incredible. I was so happy."
South County winning a district championship is nothing new, but this season had a different feel to it for the Stallions, who lost seven senior starters to graduation. South County started five freshmen (Martin, Maglich, Burks, catcher Haylea Geer and right fielder Courtney Ward) and the two returning starters, seniors Kastner and Alex Brown, changed positions this season. The Stallions entered the district tournament as the No. 4 seed rather than a dominant force, but still managed to get the job done.
"It's unfathomable to me to start five freshmen and win districts," Dillow said. "It's just unbelievable that we've been able to do that."
South County will host Langley at 7 p.m. on May 27 in the first round of the regional tournament.
"No one other than us," Martin said, "really expected us to get this far."