WINCHESTER — All season long the James Wood softball team has shown the heart and the character of a champion.

Never has that been on display more than it was Tuesday night in the Class 4 Northwestern District tournament championship game.

Trailing No. 2 seed Sherando 4-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning, the Colonels’ offense exploded for nine unanswered runs in their last two at-bats and secured a 10-5 win over the Warriors.

Both teams advance to next Tuesday’s Region 4C semifinals. The Colonels (20-2) will host the Dulles District runner-up while Sherando (15-8) will travel to Dulles District regular-season champion Tuscarora. James Wood has won two of three meetings with the Warriors this year.

“All season long we’ve believed we can come back from any deficit, no matter how big,” James Wood coach Patrick Gibson said. “We’re always in every game. We preach that and we believe it and you can see it in the players’ faces. We came back and we got it done.

“The coaches talked before that game that our 2, 3, 4 and 5 hitters had to come up big in this game. It didn’t start off the way we wanted it to but they got it done. Sherando played really well and battled. That was a really good game.”

What was a pitchers’ duel for the first half of the game turned into a slugfest the last two and a half innings with 13 of the 15 runs being scored in the fifth inning or later.

Sherando (16-9) scored three times in the top of the fifth to break a 1-1 tie.

With one out, Anna Borst reached on an infield single and moved to second on a wild pitch. Another infield single by Madalyn Cox put runners on the corners and Borst scored on Kendra Chunta’s sacrifice fly to make it 2-1. Abby Vadnais walked with two outs and shortstop Madison Harris cleared the bases with a double to the fence in left-center field for a 4-1 Warriors lead.

Sherando ace Lilian Wray shut Wood down on three hits through four innings but the Colonels’ bats got hot in the fifth.

The bottom of the order that jump-started the Wood offense. Ellie Johnson, No. 8 hitter, lined a double to left to start the inning and moved to third on Brynnen Williams’ bunt single. Williams then she stole second.

Leadoff hitter Cadence Rieg made it 4-2 with a sacrifice fly to score Johnson. One out later, Izzy McKee hammered the first pitch she saw deep over the left-field fence to tie the game 4-4.

“I knew it was gone as soon as she hit it,” Rieg said. “I was the first one out of the dugout.”

“I was just looking to try and get something rolling,” McKee said. “I mean we were down 4-2. I was just trying to get on and keep the inning going and try to keep momentum up. We do a very good job of never putting unneeded pressure on ourselves when we get down because we know the bats always answer.”

The top-seeded Colonels broke the 4-4 tie in the bottom of the sixth. Three consecutive infield singles by Aiiza Judd, Skyla Compton and Jenna Shull loaded the bases with no outs. Judd scored on a wild pitch to give Wood its first lead of the game.

Johnson was hit by a pitch to reload the bases and Williams drew a walk to make it 6-4. Rieg followed by ripping a shot down the third-base line and into the left-field corner to clear the bases and make it 9-4. One out later, McKee lined a shot into the right-field alley for a triple and a 10-4 advantage.

Wood outhit the Warriors 11-6, with eight of those coming in the last two innings.

“I think this whole season has been so uplifting,” Rieg said. “Our team is just so connected right now. We go into every single game, we don’t go in cocky, we go in confident knowing that we’ll pull together and win.”

McKee went 2 for 4 with a triple and home run and three RBIs and Rieg went 2 for 3 with a double and five RBIs. Shull (2 for 3), Johnson (1 for 2, 2 runs), and Williams (1 for 2, two runs, walk, RBI) combined for four hits, four runs, and one RBI.

The Warriors scored a run in the seventh on Kayla Grum’s RBI single but could get no closer.

After letting a late lead slip away, the Warriors were disappointed, but looking forward to a trip to regionals.

“Another exciting game here,” Sherando coach Mark Conner said. “James Wood has been playing some real steady, consistent ball down the stretch. They had that one inning to get back in the game and that sixth inning did us in obviously. We just couldn’t seem to get them out.

“Up to that point, it was a good game. I couldn’t be more proud. Madison Harris had a big hit in the fifth inning that put us up 4-1. To get into the championship game tonight I’m so proud of our whole team. They’ve been working hard all season. Tonight wasn’t our night, but we’ll get ready for Tuesday.”

James Wood’s only two losses of the season came at home, but the Colonels are excited to be hosting a regional game next Tuesday.

“It’s absolutely a good feeling [playing at home] especially going into regionals against Loudoun schools that usually have a good reputation but I have full confidence in us next week,” McKee said.

“It’s everything [getting to play at home],” Gibson said. “Seems like we get to this point and we always have to go on the road. So having a home game is just going to add to that advantage. We have big time confidence in our girls, all up and down the lineup and a deep lineup.”

Harris was the only Warrior with more than one hit, finishing the game 2 for 3 with two RBIs and a double. Vadnais scored twice while Grum and Santana Puller each had a hit and an RBI.

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