SHENANDOAH — As the Page County players formed a circle and listened to the words of their coaches in right field, a familiar message came from assistant coach Ralph Viafora.
“That’s what he always says,” Panthers head coach Alan Knight said. “If they don’t score, we can’t lose. We can’t lose if they don’t put a run on the scoreboard.”
Viafora’s theory was proven true Tuesday as Page County rode a strong performance from senior Sabrina Foltz in the circle to a 1-0 win over Nottoway in the Virginia High School League Class 2 quarterfinals in Shenandoah.
With the victory, the Panthers advance to the state semifinals on Friday, where they’ll take on Richlands — a 7-2 winner over Floyd County in another state quarterfinal game on Tuesday — at 1 p.m. at Radford University in a rematch of last year’s VHSL Class 2 title game.
Against the Cougars, Foltz came up big for Page for a second straight game — she gave up just three hits in a 5-0 win over Madison County in the Region 2B championship — as she pitched a complete game, giving up five hits and three walks while striking out four.
“It’s my senior year,” Foltz said. “I just want to go out on top. [The defense] has been huge for me. I can stay calm. I’ve been here before. I know the deal. I have full confidence in my teammates to make plays behind me.”
While Foltz hasn’t been known for her ability to overpower batters at the plate this season or to rack up a lot of strikeouts, she has shown a unique ability to get outs when it matters and has stepped up throughout postseason play.
For Knight, who is in his 38th year coaching the Panthers, he said Foltz falls in line with the type of pitchers the Page program has had throughout his entire tenure as coach.
“When it gets tournament time, Sabrina seems to pitch a little better,” Knight said. “Usually, if runners get on, she seems to pitch just a little better. She always finds a way to get an out.”
Against the Cougars, it was Foltz not only keeping the Nottoway lineup in check, but she also provided the game’s only run with a sac fly in the fourth that scored Savannah Whitmer.
The Panthers had only two hits for the game — Maddie Gordon’s double and Taylor Umberger’s single — but used strong pitching from Foltz and a solid defensive effort behind her to hold on for the victory.
“This year it has been very good,” Knight said of Page’s defensive effort. “We work at it so much because we aren’t going to strikeout 12, 13, 14 kids. We’re going to strike out five. So our focus has to be defensively.”
Nottoway coach Travis Andrews said the Cougars had trouble figuring out Foltz’s unorthodox delivery, but also gave credit to the Panthers infield.
“Her defense picked her up a bunch,” Andrews said. “We had a good plan going in. We knew she stayed away and we were looking for that pitch away. I think today — not to be ugly — she was effectively wild. She had just enough movement on the ball where we were hitting it down on the ground and the infield made some really good plays.”
For the game, Nottoway had five hits but stranded eight runners on base and that was something that Andrews said can’t happen against a team like Page.
“We missed on opportunities,” Andrews said. “We had some runners on and maybe weren’t as aggressive as we should have been or I should have been. You want to give kids an opportunity to get a base hit. That’s a well-coached team over there. Alan obviously does a great job. We just had too many runners on base that we left stranded like that.”
For the Panthers, it wasn’t a great day at the plate, but it was the type of game where Knight said his message to the team was simply to go out and make a play.
“We have to keep doing what we do and somebody has to make a play,” Knight said. “You never know. ... We’re fortunate. We scored a run and did enough things to get the win.”
The pitcher’s duel between Foltz and Nottoway’s McKenna Falwell — she finished with six innings pitched, two hits and three walks given up along with five strikeouts — was the highlight of the game, but also put pressure on both players.
With a strong defense behind her, however, and a lineup that is usually strong at the plate, Foltz said she remained confident throughout the contest that her team would get the job done.
“We’ve been playing really good,” Page shortstop Tana Merica said. “At the beginning [of the season], it was a little shaky, but we’ve come together as a team now and we’ve been doing a lot better defensively. [Foltz has] been throwing a lot of strikes. We’re all just really proud of her. She’s been doing really good.”
With the win, the Panthers advanced back to the state semifinals for the second straight year and will look to defend their VHSL Class 2 state title with a rematch of last year’s championship game on Friday when they take on Richlands.
“I think they’re probably one of the best teams left after today,” Andrews said of the Panthers. “They’re solid. They don’t have a shutdown pitcher, but she pitches well enough and the defense plays great behind her. They got hard outs.”
When Page takes on Richlands — the Region 2D runner-up — it will face another pitcher in Mackenzie Osborne that has been known for big performances this season.
Last year, the Panthers beat the Blue Tornado 3-0 in the VHSL Class 2 title game to win their third state championship in five seasons.
In order to get a chance at their fourth, Page players said they know they’ll need another strong outing from Foltz and, more than likely, a couple of more runs.
“It’s states now,” Knight said. “You’re playing very good teams, facing very good pitchers. I like where we’re at. I like how we’re playing. We’re playing very good softball right now.”
Nottoway 000 000 0—0 5 1
Page County 000 100 0—1 2 0
WP—Foltz. LP—Falwell. HR—none.