Leesburg, Va. — For the Woodgrove High School softball program, playing in a state championship game has become second nature. In the eleven seasons since the school opened, the Wolverines had appeared in eight state championship games, winning it all five times. But 2023 was different.
None of the girls on this Woodgrove team had ever played in a state championship game. Their 2020 season was cut short before it even started due to COVID. In 2021, the Wolverines fell in a region semifinal. Then in 2022, Woodgrove lost to Hickory in a VHSL Class 5 State semifinal.
So when Woodgrove earned its first state championship game berth since 2019, the Wolverines wanted to make the most of it.
After grabbing an early lead, Woodgrove turned to its defense, which put on a clinic behind junior ace Abbey Lane, avenging their 2022 state semifinal loss, and earning the program’s sixth VHSL State title, 3-0, over the Hickory Hawks on June 10 in Leesburg.
“The girls are so talented that they felt a lot of pressure to get to this game and make something happen,” Woodgrove head coach Joe Spicer said. “In many ways, this might be the closest team I’ve coached at Woodgrove. They are really supportive, we have great depth, just a really cohesive group.”[adrotate banner=”58″]
In the second, Woodgrove senior first baseman Emma Hooftallen sent a 1-out double down the right field line to give the Wolverines a spark. Sophomore left fielder Faith Barker followed that up with a stand-up double down the right field line to set up second and third with just one out.
Then senior right fielder Alaina Santoli stepped up and hit a hard ground ball up the middle to plate sophomore pinch runner Danielle Plazyk.
“That’s a senior coming through in some really big moments,” Spicer said. “She’s always positive and able to look through the pressure and produce.”
With the lead, sophomore second baseman Addie McCullers led off the bottom of the third with a flare single over the circle then stole second. Two outs later, sophomore designated player Erynn Thompson roped a double to left to plate McCullers and extend the Woodgrove lead to 2-0.
Eventually, Woodgrove added an insurance run in the sixth when Santoli tripled to right center to score Thompson who led off the inning with an infield single.
While those insurance runs were comforting, they proved unnecessary as the Hawks never really got anything going on offense.
Hickory reached in the second, third, fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, but Lane worked her way out of the small jams she faced, thanks in part to the excellent play of her defense.
“When you have Abbey in the circle, it seems like the job gets a lot easier,” Spicer said. “She’s always around the strike zone, she doesn’t get hit hard very often, and she always gives you a chance to win.”
Hickory freshman center fielder Riley Reynolds led off the game with a laser line drive to third which Woodgrove senior third baseman Michelle Chatfield snagged with ease.
A 2-out single in the third was quickly erased when Woodgrove freshman catcher Cayden Sparks caught the Hawks’ baserunner attempting to steal second
Then in the fourth, the Wolverines flashed some leather again when a ball deflected off Chatfield’s glove right to senior shortstop Anni Rohs who threw a strike to first for the out.
“We pride ourselves on our defense,” Chatfield said. “Giving that assurance to our pitcher is really nice, because Abbey knows we have her back which helps her a lot.”
The Hawks had their first real opportunity of the game in the sixth when junior shortstop Alena Demakas led off the inning with a single to left. However, Lane induced three straight pop outs to the left side of her infield to squash the threat.
Hickory had another chance in the seventh when freshman starter Emily Miller led off the seventh with a line drive double to left center, but Lane again worked out of it. After a pop out to the catcher, Lane induced a short pop up in foul territory which Chatfield dove and caught for the second out of the seventh. Lane then struck out a pinch hitter to end the game as the Wolverines claimed their first state championship since 2018.
“We’ve been working for this all year, so it’s nice to see all our hard work pay off,” Chatfield said. “I don’t think any of us will ever forget this. This is the closest team I’ve ever played on, so I’m sure we’ll be talking about this game forever.”