LYNCHBURG — Katrina Martin has done a lot for the Turner Ashby High School softball team this year. None of it’s been noisy, but all of it’s been essential. Always in the lineup somewhere, the 15-year-old freshman can play any position and has made a season of filling in, playing the stopgap and just generally being the glue that holds TA’s parts together.
“She’s a true utility,” TA pitcher Natalie Helmick said. “She fills in wherever she’s needed and she’s done beyond great — she’s performed beyond great.”
Martin continued to do so Friday in the state semifinals.
Serving as TA’s designated player, Martin was the difference in a pitching duel, driving in the go-ahead run in the top of the fifth inning to break a scoreless tie and spur the Knights to a 2-0 victory over Brentsville District at Liberty University.
The win — it took just an hour and 13 minutes — puts Turner Ashby (25-1) in the 3A title game, where it will face Brookville (which beat TA 5-2 for the 3A West regional championship) today at 10 a.m., also at Liberty. The Knights are seeking their second state title in program history. They won their first in 2004.
Martin said she considers herself a defensive specialist. Perhaps she could reassess.
“That’s always been my strong spot,” said Martin, whose best position is shortstop, where she filled in for Alexa Sheets this year when Sheets was hurt. “That’s just what I enjoy doing. I like defense more than hitting so I work on it a lot.”
Her offense is what mattered Friday against the Tigers (21-3). Martin finished 1-for-3 with an RBI single. It was a bloop to shallow, shallow center field with two outs in the top of the fifth inning that gave TA a 1-0 lead. Martin fought off an inside pitch to score Katelynn Moyer — courtesy running for catcher Bre Bosley, who reached on a single — and gave the Knights’ momentum.
The key to Martin’s clutch hit was apparently a smile.
“If you ask her any questions, she’s probably not going to say anything positive about herself ‘cause she is so hard on herself,” TA coach Laura Bowman said. “... As a freshman, she puts so much pressure on herself, and it’s been nice the last — really just during the postseason — to see her smile. And before she got in the box, she smiled, and that made me feel [like] she’s good; she’s not carrying too much on her.”
Helmick did the rest for the Knights, making it 2-0 in the top of the sixth with an RBI single that stopped at the base of the right-center field fence. It scored Olivia Cook, who singled. Helmick also kept the game a shutout, grooving through a complete game and striking out four. The sophomore right-hander gave up four hits and, at one point, retired nine in a row to out-duel Brentsville ace Leah Shipp, who had struck out 232 batters in 147 ⅔ innings before Friday.
Friday, Shipp struck out one and gave up six hits. Both runs were earned.
Helmick also got help from several gold glove-worthy plays. In the first inning, third baseman Jordon Will and first baseman Kierstin Roadcap each dove to snare line drives. Sheets also played superlative defense at short, recording five assists and two putouts while going 1-for-2 with a single, as TA won after having its 24-game win streak ended by Brookville last week.
“We kind of put it past us,” said Helmick, whose future college coach, James Madison’s Mickey Dean, was in attendance scouting Friday. “We tried to turn the page as much as we could. We tried to get together more and tried to trust each other more and tried to get back on the same page and have fun and be ourselves. We had an ice-cream party after practice [this week] so we were together and enjoying each other and having fun.”
Martin certainly was, although she still required reminding. Before her final at-bat, Roadcap yelled from the dugout: “Hey, Kat! Smile!”
“I always have a pretty straight face,” Martin said. “I guess that’s my natural face but I smiled before I hit the single, so she told me to smile more.”
Turner Ashby 000 011 0 — 2 6 0
Brentsville 000 000 0 — 0 4 1
Helmick and Bosley; Shipp and McCarthy. W — Helmick (23-1). L — Shipp (20-3).