Stonewall loses heartbreaker in eighth inning

GLEN ALLEN — Julie Pallatt couldn’t believe it was over or how it had ended.

A magnificent season that brought the Stonewall Jackson softball team to the edge of school history came to an abrupt, heart-breaking finish Saturday night in Richmond.

After traveling hundreds of miles and overcoming a pair of postseason disappointments just to reach the state final four, the Raiders’ hopes of capturing their first Group AAA championship were dashed by a 1-0 loss to Atlee at RF&P Park.

Narissa Suber, the sophomore shortstop who scored the winning run just one night earlier in Atlee’s dramatic ninth-inning victory over Osbourn, sprinted home once again on a wild throw — this time in the bottom of the eighth.

After reaching base on a bloop single into center field to start the rally, Suber advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Allison Harvey and scored the game’s only run on a Pallatt throwing error.

When the ball skipped past first baseman Jessie Henderson and caromed off the fence, Pallatt fell to her knees on the infield dirt. She wasn’t looking when Suber crossed the plate, but the cheers that rang out of Atlee’s dugout told the Raiders’ shortstop what had transpired.

It wasn’t what she or her teammates had envisioned. That’s why none of them even attempted to hold back post-game tears. A 20-win season and a runner-up trophy, the third one of the spring for Stonewall, provided a small measure of consolation.

“Our goal was to make it here,” Stonewall Jackson coach Jason Koch said. “Two teams get to play the last game of the season and we were one of them.”

The Raiders reached the finals for the first time since 1996 with an effortless 7-0 victory over Lake Braddock and they’d thought that Atlee might have used up most of its energy in the other semifinal. But riveting one-run wins are what the Central Region champions have thrived on over the past few weeks.

Atlee defeated Centreville 1-0 in the state quarterfinals and Osbourn by the same score in the semifinals. Back in the title game for the first time since 1992, Atlee used a familiar formula to beat Stonewall: senior pitcher Casey Smith’s magnificent right arm and sophomore designated hitter Holly Stout’s bat.

Stout, who claims she likes her spot in Atlee’s batting order because “nobody expects much from me at No. 8.,” has repeatedly played the role of playoff hero. She belted a three-run triple against Monocan in the Central Region semifinals, a game-winning triple against Centreville in the state quarterfinals and a ninth-inning double that set up Atlee’s win over Osbourn.

On Saturday, she came through again. It didn’t matter in the least that her grounder was hit directly to Pallatt. With Suber on second, all Stout was trying to do was hit the ball as hard as she could. In that sense, it was mission accomplished.

Atlee had only three hits all afternoon against Stonewall ace Courtney Bures and Stout knew it was time to make something happen.

“It doesn’t have to be the best hit ever,” she said. “It scored the run. That’s what matters.”

It had crossed Stout’s mind that, with first base open, the Raiders might choose to walk her and take their chances with No. 9 hitter Amanda Johnson.

“I’m glad they didn’t,” she said.

Stout didn’t get the single she was looking for, but she hustled down the line fast enough on her grounder that Pallatt had to rush her throw. It short-hopped Henderson in front of first base and Atlee had its 23rd win of the year.

The Raiders (20-4) had only one scoring opportunity against Smith, who struck out nine and earned her 15th shutout with a complete-game four-hitter.

She didn’t allow a run in three state-tournament wins.

“Casey’s been awesome all season. She’s our main person,” Stout said. “She can shut out anybody.”

Koch agreed.

“She’s a good pitcher. You could tell her ball was moving because it wasn’t coming off our bats very well,” he said. “We really hit [Friday] night and we were hoping it would carry over, but it didn’t.”

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