SHENANDOAH — There’s nothing new to this for Page County coach Alan Knight.
The 38th-year Panthers coach is not only one of the longest-tenured high school softball coaches in the state, but he’s experienced the big stage before, winning three state titles during his lengthy tenure as the coach in Shenandoah.
So when Page plays Richlands today at noon in the Virginia High School League Class 2 softball semifinals at Radford University, Knight and his players said they’ll be ready.
“We’re definitely coming in with some experience from last year,” senior outfielder Corinne Murphy said. “I think that’s going to help a lot with just knowing how to play under that type of pressure.”
The Panthers, the defending VHSL Class 2 state champions, are even more familiar with the Blue Tornado after defeating them 3-0 in last year’s state title game.
Both teams featured just a handful of seniors on their rosters last season, so there will be a lot of familiar faces squaring off today with a shot in Friday’s state championship game on the line.
“It’s pretty much the same team that we played last year,” Knight said. “I know they return quite a few players just like we do, but I really think it’ll probably be pretty much the same team we faced last year.”
One of the biggest returning pieces for Richlands (21-5) is junior pitcher Mac Osborne, who has won 20 games this season and has a 1.45 ERA along with 287 strikeouts.
Earlier this season, she had a six-inning perfect game against Graham in which she struck out all 18 batters she faced.
“We just have to be selective at the plate and relax,” Page senior Sabrina Foltz said. “We can’t overthink it.”
In last year’s state championship game, the Panthers used timely hitting — all three of Page’s runs crossed the plate with two outs — and a solid defensive performance to come away with the win.
That’s something Knight said will be needed again if the Panthers hope to repeat.
“She’s going to throw the ball hard,” Knight said. “We’ll see what happens. She’s going to do a nice job. She’s a good pitcher, a very good pitcher. It was a pretty good ball game last year and I expect the same.”
Osborne has also shown the ability to be a prolific hitter with a .461 batting average while Katlynn Baldwin leads the Blue Tornado, hitting .467 for the year.
Richlands is in the state tournament for the third straight year after finishing as runner-up the previous two seasons and are in it for the 11th time in program history.
The Blue Tornado won Group AA championships in 1995 and 1996.
“We’re in a good place,” Knight said. “We played very well [in the Class 2 quarterfinal win over Nottoway]. The only thing I was disappointed in was that we weren’t as disciplined at the plate as were [in the Region 2B championship win] at Madison. We did a great job there and swung at better pitching. You can talk about it and try to work on it, but you just have to see what happens.”
While the Panthers (22-5) will face the tough task of figuring out Osborne for a second straight year, they hope that their own ace, Foltz, will continue her stellar postseason play.
Last year, as a junior, Foltz was pivotal to Page’s success throughout their state-championship winning run and has looked similar so far this season.
“I think she kind of sets the tone,” Knight said. “I also think [Brooklynn Fridley and Maddie Gordon] set the tone, too. I don’t think that’s a secret. Our first two batters are pretty good players and a pretty big part of our lineup. With Sabrina pitching, the question comes of how good of defense are we playing?
“Last year in the state tournament, I don’t know if we had an error. That’s what we’re going to have to do. We’re going to have to play really good defense. Sabrina is going to have to pitch well. Hopefully we’ll have a few more hits than we had yesterday so we have more of a chance to score more than one run. That’s what we’ll try to do.”
When the Panthers take the field today, they said they know what to expect.
They added that nerves will certainly be there, but once the first pitch is tossed and the game gets underway, they have one goal in mind and it’s one they set before the season even started.
“Winning one last year and knowing these are our two final games, it definitely makes you want to win it all,” Murphy said. “Hopefully we can.”