NORTH RIVER, Va. —
When Tazewell (10-14) takes on the Valley District champion Fort Defiance Indians (17-2) at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Virginia High School League state softball quarterfinals, it will be a first for both.
Neither has played in the state tournament before and each is thrilled to be among the Elite 8, as the remaining teams among the state’s 96 Group AA schools have been eliminated.
The Southwest District’s Lady Bulldogs lost 6-2 Saturday at Carroll in the Region IV championship contest while Ft. Defiance won a dramatic 8-7 Region III title game over Broadway, played at Harrisonburg. Tom Keene’s Lady Dogs qualified for state with a 7-4 win over Carroll County last week.
Now Broadway will visit Cave Spring as the playoffs enter the final phase.
The Indians got the regional title game when Carli Hill blasted a walk-off home run in a 3-2 win over Turner Ashby. In first round playoff action, Fort Defiance walloped Spotswood 17-4.
“To be in this kind (eight teams remaining) of company is one thing we are focusing on,” said Keene. “This is a great achievement for the girls. We did not play up to our expectations against Cave Spring but that’s behind us and we have to adopt a brand-new mindset. Fort Defiance is a fine team and we have our work cut out for us.”
A pair standout pitchers — Bri Sparks of the Bulldogs and Megan Good for Ft. Defiance — will lead the way.
Sparks tossed shutout wins against Carroll and Salem over the past two weeks to help THS qualify for the state playoffs. Good lived up to her name, not only winning the contest but getting a key second-inning RBI against Broadway and then scoring the deciding run on a passed ball.
“Most everybody has heard of Megan by now,” laughed Indians’ coach Max Hill. “She has done whatever we have asked of her. The whole team, really, has come together. Amanda Coleman, Alexis Pullin, Tiffany Taylor, Becca Wyer, I could just go down the list.
“I’m very proud of this team. We lost a ton of talent from last year’s team but this season the girls have worked so well together. There is no drama, no problems – just hard play and a lot of teamwork.”
Keene, too, has had more physically-talented squads in recent years but no more togetherness than the ’13 team.
“I have been very pleased with our attitude all season,” says Keene. “These young ladies have done what has been asked of them. We have played some good teams and won some big games to get to this point.
“To say that you are among the top eight teams in the state is something special — now we have to play our hardest. We are ‘0-0’ in state playoff competition so every team remaining has to work through this week to get to where we really want to be.”
The Indians, playing at home, will be a formidable foe. In addition to Good’s effort, Amanda Coleman sparked the FDHS attack Saturday with a three-run double to help the Indians build a 6-1 lead midway through the game.
Tazewell’s standout freshman Karlee Wasilewski has been a late-season key including a three-hit performance against Carroll County. She led off with a hit Saturday and had a great catch in right field.
Laura Kincer, Whitney Saunders, and Allie Lee have led the Lady Dog hitting attack. Tazewell has shown a steady improvement.
“A lot of people have underestimated us all year long,” says Savanna Miller. “We were picked to finish fourth in the district. We thought from the beginning we would have a good year and we are going to go into Tuesday’s game playing to win it.”
Hill, who coached in Texas for 15 years, is having an equally good time working with a team that has exceeded expectations.
“Maybe neither we nor Tazewell was expected to be in the state playoffs but here we are. My girls are excited, and ready to play. This is what it’s all about. I have been in athletics a long time but softball is something special — this is where it’s at!”
Tazewell to Fort Defiance Travel Directions
Take I-77S to I-81N at Wytheville. Go 155 miles and take Exit 227, the Verona Exit. Go left 1 mile on Laurel Hill Road, then right 3 miles on U.S. Rt. 11. Take a left onto Ft. Defiance Road to the school.
The trip is approximately 202 miles, 3 1/2 hours travel time.