RADFORD — With talented pitchers Emily Seale and Logyn Estes, the Madison County softball team usually has an advantage in the circle against most teams.
Richlands ace Makenzie Osborne flipped the script Friday as she turned in an eye-popping performance to lead to the Blue Tornado to a 1-0 win and their first VHSL state championship since 1996.
The junior hurler fanned 16 batters, including the first 11 that stepped into the box, as Richlands ended a streak of two straight losses in the state championship game.
“She was amazing,” Madison County coach Jesse Yowell said. “She was on her ‘A’ game and you could tell she wanted this game. The whole team for Richands really wanted the game. We did too, but we came out a little flat, I felt. We picked it up later on, but unfortunately things like that happen.”
Osborne entered Friday’s game with 300 strikeouts on the season and turned in a dazzling performance Thursday to knock off defending state champion Page County.
“We had a game plan to come out bunting and get the bunts down because we knew she was an excellent pitcher,” Yowell said. “We had seen her [Thursday] and felt like we needed to get some bunts down. We struggled with her pitching too. The way she mixed it up, high and outside, so there were a lot of different things.”
Osborne struck out the side in each of the first three innings. She then fanned the first two batters in the fourth before Bailey Smith hit a weak pop up to the pitcher.
Seale matched Osborne for the first three innings, even though she struggled to hit her spots consistently. The junior pitcher surrendered just three hits in four shutout innings of work for the Mountaineers (23-3). She stranded five base runners and fanned the final two batters she faced to finish the state tournament with 18 scoreless innings of work.
Yowell turned to Estes in the fifth to give Richlands a different look. The senior retired the first batter before Lauren Earls lined a double to the wall in left field. She advanced to third on a passed ball to give the Blue Tornado a blue-ribbon scoring chance.
The next pitch sailed wide of the catcher and to the backstop. Earls didn’t break for the plate immediately, but an errant throw back to the pitcher slipped under her glove and Earls sprinted home for a 1-0 lead.
Yowell said he had planned to use both pitchers prior to Friday’s state title game.
“I just felt like I needed to mix it up a little bit today and split the pitching time,” he said. “They both did a great job. They didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just unfortunate that things happen.”
Osborne took a perfect game into the sixth inning before Emilee Daniel beat out a bunt single for the first hit of the game. The Mountaineers were unable to take advantage of the baserunner, as Osborne struck out the next batter, then induced a weak ground ball out to end the inning.
Madison County tried to generate another rally in its final at bat. After Osborne retired the first two batters, Sophie Adams battled through an 0-2 count and earned a walk to bring the go-ahead run to the plate.
The Mountaineers couldn’t generate any late-inning magic as Seale grounded out to third to end the game.
“We had a great season,” Yowell said. “It was just unfortunate today that we made one little mistake and we didn’t hit. Everybody’s disheartened, as am I. We tried our best, it just didn’t happen today. If you can’t hit the ball, you can’t make a mistake, not even one. Unfortunately, we made that one mistake. It wasn’t our day.”
Despite the loss, Yowell said his team never lost hope.
“They never got down, even in the seventh inning,” Yowell said. “We got a little bit of hope getting Sophie on base and hoping Emily would come through or something like that. Even to the last out, they never gave up.”