Osbourn prepares for fight with Atlee

>On Saturday, Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson will fight for the Heavy-weight Championship of the World in Memphis.

Today, though, there is another heavyweight battle taking place in Richmond between two of Virginia’s best pitchers when Osbourn (20-4) takes on Atlee (21-2) in the AAA state semifinals at RF&P Park at 8 p.m.

In one corner is Osbourn’s Lydia Sumner. First team all-region, seven straight victories, 39 consecutive scoreless innings, 14-1 record and backed by one of the best defenses in the state.

In the other corner is Atlee’s Casey Smith, who no-hit Centreville in the Raiders 1-0 victory in the state quarterfinals for her 13th shutout this season. Smith went 19-2 and led Atlee to the Capital District regular season and Central Region titles.

“I think she is comprable to the pitcher’s we see around here,” Osbourn coach Renee Leake said of Smith. “I’ve heard she throws around 55-60 (mph) and works the corners.”

And just like Tyson-Lewis likely will end with one punch, the winner of Friday’s game will likely be whoever can put one run on the board. Both the Raiders and Eagles have advanced this far because they have been able to keep their opponents off the scoreboard.

Atlee gave up only one run in the Central Region Tournament while Osbourn allowed only two. The Raiders defeated Douglas Freeman 7-1 in the region quarters and then shutout Monacan (4-0) and Mills Godwin (3-0) to capture the region title. Smith then threw a no-hitter against Centreville in the state quarterfinals to put the Raiders in the semis. The Eagles gave up two runs to Hylton in the region quarterfinals and then shutout their next three opponents.

“We are confident,” Leake said. “I heard the same things about Kempsville that I’m hearing about this team coming in. I don’t think it’s anything we havne’t seen in the past.”

Atlee’s main focus today will be how to score on Sumner and the Eagles’ outstanding defense. Catcher Katheryn Gannon is the team’s leading hitter and she hit a single in the second inning to start the Raiders rally against Centreville ace Krista Brotemarkle. Gannon also has a cannon arm and showed it off when she picked off Centreville’s Taylor Schetzel with one out in the seventh inning of the state quarterfinal game to kill the Wildcats rally.

Gannon is arguably the team’s most valuable player and solidifies a veteran infield. Senior Johanna Loehr was All-Metro last year for the Mechanicsville school and is very strong defensively. Senior Erica Bruce is solid at first base as well as junior third baseman Morgan Austin.

Osbourn though is lacking in experience. The Eagles are in the state tournament for the first time in school history, while Atlee is making its second straight appearance. The Raiders lost to eventual champion Woodside, 1-0, in the state quarterfinals last year and reached the semifinals back in 1996.

For Osbourn to win, the Eagles are going to have to continue what they’ve been doing throughout the postseason. The Eagles offense has exploded with 35 runs in the team’s six postseason games and has been able to generate runs when needed.

But whatever happens with Osbourn today the team has had quite a run. They were honored last night at the school’s annual spring sport banquet and were given a standing ovation. Leake said that the school is going to chear the team on today as they leave on their charter bus for Richmond.

“The girls are just on cloud-9 right now,” Leake said. “They are smiling ear to ear and just enjoying what is going on. The response at the banquet was great and everyone is behind us…At the banquet I said we are a Cinderella story and that things worked out for Cinderella in the end and hopefully they will work out for us as well.”

After a remarkable season the Eagles hope they can find a glass slipper their size. Sumner has improved her game and become one of the best pitchers in the state. She has pitched all but two innings in the state tournament and leads a young Osbourn team into today’s game.

The Eagles only have two seniors on their team and a core of young players that have helped this year’s team to the best season in school history. They won the Cedar Run District tournament and continued their strong play in the postseason.

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