BEDFORD — They yelled. They sang. They even brought out the infamous hats.
But for each gimmick the Turner Ashby dugout unveiled — the same ones the Knights have become famous for this postseason — Liberty-Bedford’s dugout let out a roar of their own as their junior ace, Millie Thompson, continued to sit down each TA batter.
“That’s what I want,” Thompson said of the energy from her dugout. “Sometimes you may get bored, but that’s always our plan. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s what we want. I hope we keep this momentum going.”
Thompson pitched a complete-game shutout, giving up just five hits and no walks while striking out eight as fourth-seeded Liberty continued its strong postseason run with a 3-0 win over second-seeded Turner Ashby in the Region 3C softball championship on Thursday in Bedford.
With the victory, the Minettes earned a first-round home game in next week’s Virginia High School League Class 3 state tournament, where they’ll host Staunton River. Turner Ashby, meanwhile, will hit the road to take on Cave Spring.
“It means a lot to us,” Thompson said. “This year was not our best regular season. To come in and fight and win when it matters, that means a lot. I’m so proud of all these girls. I’m so happy.”
The game renewed a rivalry of sorts between the two teams after Liberty rallied from a seven-run deficit in last year’s regional title game to defeat the Knights 10-9.
On Thursday, in front of a large crowd for both teams, each dugout brought noise and energy from the first pitch.
“I think they got caught up a little bit in the moment, in the craziness and the attitudes,” TA coach Clint Curry said. “Every time we’ve come down here, it’s been like this. Bottom line is that we didn’t hit. We played great defense, Makayla [Cyzick] threw a great game — it was just that one [Liberty] hit. We just didn’t come through.”
The one hit Curry was referring to came in the fourth inning when LHS first baseman Kinnice Turner connected on a bases-clearing double deep into center that brought home Kacey Whorley, Paige Naples and Thompson to give the Minettes a 3-0 lead.
It was one of only six hits Cyzick gave up for the day, but it came at a timely moment and produced the only runs of the game for either team.
“We just didn’t stay focused,” Curry said. “We wasn’t disciplined today. It just wasn’t our day, just wasn’t our day to hit. That’s the bottom line.”
It took the Knights three innings before they even got a hit off Thompson — a single from Carley Davis in the fourth — but a double play was turned in the ensuing at-bat to end the inning.
Turner Ashby put multiple runners on base in the fifth and sixth innings, but Thompson was able to get out of each jam with a pair of flyouts and a grounder.
“I’m so proud of her,” Liberty coach Mike Thompson said. “Sometimes you want to have empathy for some of the things she’s going through, but you can’t. You just have to keep pushing her. I thought she really beared down tonight. Over the last few weeks, she’s really been on top of her game.”
In last year’s regional championship game, the Knights pounded out nine hits off Thompson, but managed just five on Thursday.
Despite their struggles at the plate, Davis, who finished 2-for-3, remained confident in her teammates.
“I think it was our pitch selection,” Davis said. “We weren’t smart. There were a lot of things going on in the game and we let it get to us. It happens, but we’ll get another shot. We’re not done.”
The game was a battle of two teams playing their best at the right time.
The Minettes entered the Seminole District tournament — a league known for having several strong softball programs across different classifications — as the No. 4 seed, but won that tournament and have stayed on a roll since.
The Knights, meanwhile, cruised through the Valley District postseason before posting back-to-back wins to open up regional play.
“We know who we are,” Davis said. “That wasn’t us. We’re a pretty good hitting team and I really believe that. The next game, we’ll make adjustments, fight our hardest and play do-or-die.
“In the huddle, I just told them that we’re not done and don’t hold your heads down. I said, ‘No tears. You’re not crying.’ We lost, but we’re not done. We still have ourselves and need to fight for each other.”
There was no love lost between the two teams or their fans on Thursday and both teams said that was something they expected coming in.
Despite TA being the higher-seeded team, Liberty was the predetermined host school for this year’s regional championships in all sports, allowing the LHS fans to fill the hill behind home plate.
“It’s a really tough thing to keep their minds on it, but it’s a testament to my players,” Mike Thompson said. “They still stayed in it. We knew we had to match [TA’s] intensity. We know they’re a very intense group and we knew if we didn’t, it’d be a long night.”
The Knights (21-4) will now take on a familiar foe Tuesday when they travel to Cave Spring — a 4-2 winner over Staunton River in the Region 3D championship — in the VHSL Class 3 quarterfinals.
Last season, Cave Spring ended TA’s season with a 4-0 win in the state quarterfinals.
“I had a lot of motivation going into this game so I guess this is like the same cycle from last year, but hopefully we’re going to change it,” Davis said. “We want to go on.”
Davis’ coach agreed.
“We’re fine,” Curry said. “We’re good. We know who we have to play. We’ll be all right.”
The Minettes (19-6), meanwhile, will look to continue their magical postseason run, something Millie Thompson said has made this season a little extra special.
That’s why once the final out was recorded Thursday, the junior let out a roar of her own as she was embraced by teammates in the pitching circle in celebration.
“We just stayed focused,” Thompson said. “There was a lot of noise from fans, players, everything. For me, it was about focusing on this pitch, this minute, this moment. I think we did that really well.”
Liberty-Bedford 000 300 0—3 6 0
Turner Ashby 000 000 0—0 5 1
WP—Thompson. LP—Cyzick. HR—none.