After being denied a chance to make a fourth straight trip to the Class AAA state softball tournament last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington has some unfinished business to take care of this week.
The Patriots, winners of their last 17 games, including a two-game sweep of Hedgesville last week for the regional championship, are seeking to better their third-place finish at the last three state tournaments.
“Now it’s time for us to show the rest of the state what we can do,” Washington coach Amanda Orkoskey, in her 10th season at the softball helm for the Patriots, said.
Washington (25-3) opened play at South Charleston’s Little Creek Park on Tuesday, taking on Cabell Midland (27-9) in a first-round game of the four-team, double-elimination tournament.
“I thought we were going to have another breakout year,” Orkoskey said of last season’s disappointment. “We were just wrapping up some scrimmages when we got the call there would be no season.”
Washington had a good chance at making a deep run in last year’s tournament, so it turned out to be a huge disappointment for last year’s seniors.
“It was so tough on the seniors,” Orkoskey said. “And our underclassmen lost a year of experience because of no play, but we’re grateful to be out there this year, doing what we’re doing.”
The other side of the state tournament bracket featured John Marshall (21-5-3) taking on St. Alban’s (30-1). Winners played winners and losers played losers later in the day on Tuesday.
Everything wraps up Wednesday. Depending on how the tournament progresses, and where a team stands in a bracket, there’s always a chance a team could end up playing three games on Wednesday. For example, a team winning an elimination-round game on Tuesday would have to win another elimination-round game early Wednesday, then defeat the undefeated team, coming out of the winner’s bracket, twice for the state crown.
It could make for a long day for a team with one loss in the tournament, but Orkoskey’s been around the game long enough to know many of these players have been involved with travel softball over the years and have the stamina to play two or three games in a day.
“We just have to focus on us, keep our nerves under control and play a solid game,” she said. “This is a young team, so seniors, and it’s been challenging at times, but we have to go out there and do what we can do.”
When it comes to controlling the nerves, Washington third baseman-pitcher Carly Crowder knows what to do.
“I try to talk to myself, talk myself out of being nervous,” she said. “Trusting each other and working hard is important in the games.”
Senior Brittany Cenate leads Washington in batting with a .484 average and 25 stolen bases. Although she always wanted to bat last in the lineup, Cenate is more comfortable at the top of the scoresheet.
“All of us playing our game is most important, Cenate said. “We can’t put ourselves under pressure. These teams are going to be the best of the best. We have to be ready to play.”
Junior catcher Cam Noland (35 RBIs, six triples) was a little upset last year with no season, but she’s turned that frustration into excitement this year. This season, Noland’s hit a pair of home runs.
She said making the state tournament is giving the team added momentum.
“We’re pretty confident,” Noland said. “I think our chances are good.”
Junior pitcher Maddy Ruffner has been rock-solid in the circle the entire season for the Patriots. With her rising pitch the most effective, Ruffner’s kept opponents guessing all season.
Throw in an occasional screwball and she’s got all the tools to be a top-notch softball pitcher.
“That gets the corners a lot,” Ruffner said of her screwball.
Ruffner had seven strikeouts in an 8-2 Jefferson win over Hedgesville in the regional title game on Tuesday, June 15. In a 12-0 shutout of the Eagles the previous day at Shenandoah Junction, Ruffner fired a two-hitter with 12 strikeouts.
For efforts, Ruffner is 16-1 in 19 appearances this year. Her ERA stands at 0.59.