NWD Softball: Colonels upset top-seeded Skyline, 7-0
FRONT ROYAL — All along, the goal for the James Wood softball team was to come together late in the season and get on a roll once the playoffs started.
Heading into Tuesday night's Northwestern District championship game at regular-season champion Skyline, the Colonels were plenty loose in warmups and ready to take a shot at snapping the Hawks’ 14-game win streak.
James Wood was ready for whatever Skyline ace Sara Beamer had to offer, setting the tone by scoring five runs in the first two innings and coasting from there behind a superb effort from their own pitcher, Kierstyn Peacoe, to defeat the Hawks 7-0 at Skyline High School.
Fresh off a 4-0 win over Sherando in the semifinal round on Saturday, which clinched the program’s first trip to the Region II playoffs since 2002, James Wood (10-12) again came out hot with the bats and touched up Beamer for three runs on three hits in the first inning Tuesday to stun the Hawks (17-5).
“I think it’s that Colonel confidence,” said James Wood senior center fielder Rachael Largent, who had a hit and scored a run in each of the first two innings. “We just believe in ourselves and we have this little motto ‘Refuse to lose.’ On the back of our T-shirts is ‘Lay down the Smack down.’
“We just woke up today and decided we were going to win. No doubt about it, at all.”
Peacoe has been on the short end of a few matchups through the last few years with Beamer, but she was clearly the better pitcher on Tuesday. While Beamer toiled (11 hits allowed, two walks, one hit batter) on a muggy evening, Peacoe was in command most of the way.
In the first inning, Peacoe struck out the side in order on 15 pitches and fanned the first four batters she faced. She had compiled six strikeouts through three innings and she would end up with 11. So right on was Peacoe (she threw 71 of 111 pitches for strikes) that she gave up just five hits (two were of the infield variety), did not walk a batter until the seventh and did not allow a runner to reach scoring position until the seventh.
Even then, Peacoe stranded two by getting Michala Craig to foul out to catcher Jessy Shipman to end the game.
“It was just hitting the zone [with pitches],” Peacoe said. “This ump had a particular zone where he wanted to the ball placed, and I think it was crucial to hit that zone. He liked it inside and low, so as a pitcher you definitely want to figure out the ump’s strike zone.
“... Just because this was the district championship game, it felt like [it was one of my better games]. That’s just what makes it great — just because we won.”
James Wood last played for a Northwestern championship in 2002, losing 2-1 at Liberty in the district final that year. They headed down to Broad Run after that and got beat 3-0, getting no-hit by Broad Run ace Christy Anch (who went on to pitch at Tennessee). That was James Wood coach Ted McDaniel’s second season in charge and he probably had no idea at the time that it would take his program 11 years to get back to the region playoffs.
But here they are, the Colonels posting back-to-back shutout wins over two teams that combined to go 5-1 against them during the regular season.
James Wood will host the No. 4 seed from the Dulles District in a first-round Region II game on Monday.
McDaniel was glad to see that his team has been able to put all three phases together at just the right time the last few days.
“They’re playing really well and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” McDaniel said.
James Wood had scored just two runs total in its previous two games with Skyline, including a 6-2 loss May 9 on the road when the Hawks scored four unearned runs in the bottom of the sixth to come away with a win.
On Tuesday, the Colonels were aggressive early and stayed aggressive.
Shipman, who led off Saturday’s game with Sherando with a first-pitch double, lined the first pitch she saw against Beamer, but it was caught by Skyline right fielder Allison Funk.
No problem. After Largent (2 for 3, two runs scored, RBI) hit a chopper toward the middle that the Hawks could not make a play on, Peacoe drilled a sharp single to left. The hit skipped off one of the left-fielder’s legs, and Largent scored all the way from first on the error with Peacoe pulling up at second. A bouncer up the middle by senior first baseman Charlotte Viands drove Peacoe in, and Viands scored to make it 3-0 when Skyline’s second baseman could not handle Taylor Rizzari’s liner.
The Colonels struck again for two runs with two outs in the second, as Largent singled to right to plate Tori Armel (2 for 3, two runs scored, RBI, batting ninth) and Peacoe (2 for 3, run scored, RBI) doubled to left-center to send the lead to 5-0.
After two innings, James Wood already had six hits and Skyline, which has made its mark by playing solid defense behind Beamer, had three errors.
It was a frustrating day all the way around for Beamer, who is headed to play at the University of Virginia-Wise next season. As Armel scored the Colonels’ sixth run on a fourth-inning passed ball that Skyline catcher Sam Santmyers had trouble locating at the backstop, Beamer, as she rushed to retrieve the ball, yelled out, “Come on!”
James Wood got its final run in the fifth when it put together three straight hits off Beamer, the final one an RBI single by Armel to score Rizzari.
“I told one of our coaches that for us to win this game we had to get on [Beamer] real quick,” Largent said. “And that's what we did.”
Skyline coach Frank Nelson was surprised to see his team falter so quickly after playing so well for over a month. Their loss to James Wood was the first for Skyline since losing to Central on April 6 in a tournament.
“No excuse, they beat us and they beat us really well,” Nelson said. “We had told the girls all week ‘Look, you’ve got to get focused. You’re living off that [14-] game win streak.’ I don’t know what happened. We had expressions of shock, then it turned into disbelief, and then I guess the inevitable happened.”
But with the way Peacoe was protecting the lead by mixing pitches and not allowing Skyline to catch-up, the outcome already seemed locked away after only a few innings.
“Peacoe is pitching at her best now after back-to-back shutouts,” McDaniel said of his ace, who has had some shoulder issues at times this season and even missed a few starts. “I think she struck out 11 today? She was just right on. She was hitting her spots, and that's always big for a pitcher.
“I’ve always said that big players step up in big games. With the Sherando game Saturday, and this one, she has stepped up. She just put this team up on her back and carried it. Everyone else has filled in well and done great. When she can pitch like she is doing now, we have a chance to win any game because she’s a big-game pitcher and no one works any harder.”
The Colonels had just seven wins last season, but a year later they are heading to a region playoff game for the first time in 12 seasons.
Exciting times, indeed.
“We’re not done,” Peacoe said. “Anything is possible on any given day. I’m looking forward to [a regional game]. I’ve been looking forward to it since my freshman year. We’ve got time now to get prepared.”
Carrie Robinson had two hits to lead Skyline, which will host the Dulles No. 2 on Tuesday in a quarterfinal round game.