Somewhere around the fourth inning Tuesday night, with the Hornets guarding a one-run lead, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" blasted over the p.a. system behind Orange County High School in the State AAA softball quarterfinals.
Well-played, Mr. DJ. Well-played indeed.
The same, of course, was true for the Hornets, who thrilled their fans, and probably themselves just a bit, with a 1-0 win over James Madison High School to advance to Friday's State AAA semifinals at Westfield High School.
In a masterful pitching duel between OCHS senior Commonwealth District and Northwest Region Player of the Year Aysha Richardson and All-Liberty District first team and All-Northern Region second team pitcher Kelsey Ross, the Hornet hurler got the better of her counterpart, giving up only one hit and striking out 17 in a dominating performance.
Told after the game she'd fanned 17, a wide-eyed Richardson simply said, "That's crazy."
In fact, she didn't give up a hit until the top of the seventh–a lead-off single by catcher Brittany Powers. The Warhawks inserted Blake Brackett as a courtesy runner and Ross sacrificed her to second. One on, one out and the tying run standing behind Richardson at second. The stoic pitcher admitted afterward, she was shaking a bit at that point. Two strikeouts later, the only shaking the Hornet fans saw from Richardson were her teammates' hands after another hearty win.
"After that hit, I knew she'd get the next girls out," head coach Doris Buzzell said after the game. "She's awesome. I've been around Orange softball a long time and she's probably the best pitcher we've ever had."
It was a good thing, too, because the Hornets couldn't get much going offensively. Just as she has in each of the last four games, Richardson guaranteed herself an early lead.
The speedy senior bunted to third with two strikes trusting her legs were stronger than Mary Bolinger's arm. Richardson was right.
Ashleigh Williams attempted to move her pitcher up a base, but couldn't get the bunt down and struck out. No worries. Richardson swiped second. And third–as the Warhawk infield was caught unaware with no one covering the vacant bag until Richardson was done dusting herself off. With either a complex series of signals or simple nod of the head, Buzzell and Jones connected and the shortstop dropped a perfect suicide squeeze bunt that scored Richardson easily and manufactured the game's only run.
From then on, it was pretty much all Richardson, all the time.
She struck out the side in the first and again in the second. And the fourth. And later in the sixth, too. She didn't strike out the side in the fifth, but that may have been her best inning. Designated player Julia Hoy drew a lead-off walk and was replaced by courtesy runner Jordyn Pitstilli who promptly took second on a wild pitch. Leftfielder Elizabeth Fallas bunted Pistilli to third for the Warhawks' best threat of the night.
But Richardson's iron will kicked in and she pumped six straight fastballs past the flailing Warhawks as the Hornets crept another inning closer to a state semifinal game.
Richardson fanned the top of the order to start the sixth-but not before a deep and loud foul ball down the leftfield line that made everyone's heart beat just a bit faster.
After she worked around Powers' sharp single to start the seventh, with her 16th and 17th strikeouts, the Hornets had punched their ticket to the state semifinals Friday.
Pretty exciting stuff. One might even say "thrilling."
Buzzell said the keys to continued success will be keeping Richardson–who was battling a bit of a sinus issue at gametime Tuesday–healthy for Friday night's semifinal against Great Bridge.
"She came to me this morning and said she didn't feel good," Buzzell said, "but she stepped up for her team. That's what she does."
Orange will face Great Bridge at Westfield High School in Chantilly Friday, June 7 at 7 p.m.
Northwest Regional Tournament finals
On a steamy and still night when the only breeze seemed to come from Richardson's fastballs, the Hornet girls delivered their success-starved AAA school a hard-earned and satisfying Northwest Region softball title with a 3-2 win over Osbourn High School Friday night in Manassas.
The weather was hot, but the Hornets were cool, start to finish, and even when things got a little tense late.
Once again, Richardson got things going early for the Hornets, who found themselves on the road for the first time since early May.
Perhaps in an effort to advertise his knowledge of the more arcane elements of the high school softball rulebook, the home plate umpire alienated the homestanding Eagles and their fans early on when he called an illegal pitch on Osbourn's Lindsay Corbin's first effort in the top of the first. Three pitches later, Richardson took first on a base on (mostly) balls and had her sights set on second. Of course, Osbourn coaches were well aware of Richardson's fleet feet and one of them muttered, "Okay Wheels, go ahead and try to steal second," confident in all-district catcher Brittany Coffey's rifle arm behind the plate.
Ashleigh Williams made sure Richardson wouldn't have to try too hard by bunting her teammate to second, and the Eagles' efforts to keep Richardson close backfired when a pick-off attempt at second sailed wide, sending her cruising safely into third.
It's tough to defend speed–particularly if you don't field the ball, so when Jones bunted next and the Eagles didn't know whether to throw to first or home, the Hornets had runners on the corners and only one out. Jones took second easily on the first pitch to Morgan Capaldo.
Corbin pitched to contact and the Hornets often put bat to ball–but rarely ripped the cover off the ball as they had a game earlier to get to the finals. Instead, the Hornets hit a handful of pop-ups and grounders, but found a way to turn them into runs.
Capaldo hit a soft, slicing pop over firstbaseman Odalis Aviles' head that carried her behind the Hornet dugout and to the foul fence. Richardson needs only a narrow opening to take a base and that one was big enough for her to drive a school bus through. She scored standing up to make it 1-0, with Jones taking third.
When Jamie Anderson singled Jones home, the Hornets had a 2-0 lead and the Eagles on the ropes early.
Sensing his team was not quite behaving normally, one of the Eagles' coaches wondered aloud whether or not his girls needed a Snickers–after the popular candy bar commercial, when those portrayed just "aren't quite themselves."
But Richardson and the Hornets were themselves–at least the selves that have looked so solid through the postseason.
The senior pitcher whiffed the first two Eagle batters–neither even soliciting so much as a foul tip-before Coffey came up and singled sharply to right. She took second on one of Richardson's more wayward offerings, but was gunned down by Lexi Bledsoe as she attempted to take third.
Only six innings from a regional title.
Orange repetitively grounded back to the pitcher three straight times in the top of the second and Richardson rifled through the bottom of the inning with two strikeouts and a popout to Caroline Callaway.
The top of the third began with another "illegal" pitch call that solicited a chorus of condemnation from the Eagle fans, imploring the umpire to "let the girls play" and "it's not about you." Either he took their comments to heart or Eagle pitcher Corbin adjusted her motion for it was the last time he'd invoke that ruling in Friday's contest.
Orange made some noise in the third, Williams reached on a bunt and Jones on an error, but couldn't capitalize and handed things back over to Richardson in the bottom half of the frame.
After a leadoff walk to Jasmin Bradley, her first free pass, Bledsoe cut down the Eagle runner at second to erase the threat.
While Richardson was racking up strikeouts, the Eagles' Corbin was racking up easy outs. The Hornets weren't swinging and missing, just swinging and slapping simple grounders to the Osbourn infield. Four up, three down. Nothing doing.
In the bottom of the fourth, Odalis Aviles smacked a grounder to third that Kristen Anderson picked cleanly, but fired wide of first for the Eagles' third baserunner. Aviles stole second and Roxanna Aviles singled her to third. A wild pitch later and the Hornet lead was halved. Roxanna Aviles stole second and later took third. Clean-up hitter Coffey popped to Anderson and Carlita Tibbs bunted back to Richardson who froze Aviles at third before nipping Tibbs at first. As if the game needed more tension, Richardson winged one past Bledsoe who scrambled to the backstop as nearly everyone raced home. When the dust had settled–literally–Richardson had tagged out Aviles to end the fourth still up 2-1.
Back at the plate to start the fifth–this time batting–Richardson bunted with two strikes and didn't even draw a throw. What it did elicit, however, was a "that girl can motor" comment from one of a cadre of Osbourn coaches, clearly impressed with the Hornet's speed.
Williams bunted Richardson to second and when Jones singled up the middle and when the Eagles misplayed the ball, Richardson raced home with an insurance run.
What do they say about insurance? You never know when you'll need it? Something like that.
Turns out, Richardson was her own beneficiary.
After a one-two-three fifth, Richardson opened the sixth with a strike-out and a pop-up and seemed to be cruising. But Roxanna Aviles lined a single to right with Kaitlyn Johnson's throw a bit wide at first allowing Aviles to advance. Coffee then smashed a triple deep to right that scored Aviles and the Eagles and their fans could sense a tie ballgame was in the offing.
But Richardson cashed in on her insurance run and struck out Tibbs to end the inning and move Orange one inning closer to the regional title.
In the bottom of the seventh, it was Richardson's game to claim.
Corbin hit a pop-up toward second that the pitcher ranged back to grab. Next, Halle Collier hit a pop-up in front of the plate Richardson raced in to catch. After five straight foul balls off the bat of Bradley, she slapped a grounder to Anderson at third who fired to Callaway at first and the Hornets were regional champions.
As the girls gathered in the infield, the shadows of those photographing their celebration nearly obscured the sun as parents, grandparents, family and friends photographed the gleeful champions with all manner of photographic apparatus. Fortunately, beaming smiles and a shiny trophy seemed to provide sufficient light and contrast to the celebratory shadows of the crowd of well-wishers.
Richardson struck out nine and gave up four hits. Corbin yielded only six hits and struck out one. Jones had two hits for Orange and scored once Richardson scored twice. Morgan Capaldo and Anderson added runs batted in for the Hornet offense.
Northwest Regional Tournament Semifinals
Franklin County 2
Usually, to suggest something is offensive is certainly not a compliment. Yet, the Hornets were definitely offensive in the regional semifinals Wednesday evening, cranking out 11 hits in a 6-2 win over visiting Franklin County.
That's the good kind of offensive.
Morgan Capaldo ripped two deep doubles to left center field and drove in a pair of runs to lead the Hornets in a comfortable semifinal win.
Richardson gave up only three hits and struck out 13 in an exciting all-around team performance.
"As I have always said, someone always steps up," Buzzell said after the game. "These girls are a family. Morgan hit the heck out of the ball. Alexis Williams and Lexi Bledsoe also had nice hits. These girls are just awesome."
Orange opened with a run in the first after Richardson singled and took second on Williams' bunt single. Jones flew out to deep center and the runners advanced, bringing Capaldo to the plate. A ground-out later, the Hornets were up 1-0.
Richardson struck out the side in the second, but ran into trouble in the third–the first and only time Orange would trail in the regional tournament. Hannah Dudley singled and Richardson plunked Jordan Whitcomb. After she struck out the next two batters, catcher Mackenzie Chitwood blasted a double to deep left that plated her teammates and gave the visitors a 2-1 lead.
It wouldn't last.
Bledsoe singled in the fourth and took second, then third on wild pitches. Alexis Williams ripped a single to right that scored Bledsoe to tie the game.
Orange broke the game open in the bottom of the fifth.
Ashleigh Williams bunted to reach first and moved to second on Jones' deep fly to right. Capaldo scorched a double to left center that may have actually flattened one side of the ball. Williams scored easily. Anderson followed with a double to left that plated Capaldo. Johnson squeezed Anderson home and later scored on Alexis Williams' grounder to short to make it 6-2.
That was more than enough for Richardson who shut down the Eagles in the next two innings to earn the Hornets a state tournament bid.