SHENANDOAH — Corinne Murphy slowly smiled as she stepped back and forth, stuttering over her words as her teammates watched and laughed along with her.
As one of four seniors for Page County, Murphy said she’s used to having her teammates around often and wasn’t shying away from the question, but instead having trouble staying serious around the players she so often goofs and jokes around with.
“The majority of us have been playing together since we were little,” Murphy said. “We’ve all been best friends ever since. We’re all really, really close.”
When the Panthers (22-5) face Richlands (21-5) on Thursday in the Virginia High School League Class 2 softball semifinals at noon at Radford University, it could mark the final time Murphy, Sabrina Foltz, Brooklynn Fridley and Caroline Zimmerman ever suit up for Page.
After winning the VHSL Class 2 title last season — the program's third state championship since 2014 — the four seniors are determined to end their careers with another one this year.
“That’s our whole motivation,” Foltz said. "We have a goal in mind and we want to achieve it.”
The four seniors were part of a Panthers team that made it the Group 2A semifinals in 2016 as freshmen, but ultimately fell 3-1 to Lebanon.
When the team made it to the Class 2 title game last season against Richlands, the Panthers said they were more prepared for what to expect and ultimately came away with a 3-0 victory.
“A big part that helped us last year, since we experienced states our freshman year, is not to play into it, not to psych yourself out,” said Fridley, who is Page’s center fielder and leadoff batter. “We definitely did our first time. Being able to calm yourself down is huge.”
That experience of playing on the big stage is something all four players said they think will pay off this season as a majority of the Panthers roster was on last year’s championship-winning team.
Even though Page already played in one state-tournament game this season — a 1-0 win over Nottoway in the Class 2 quarterfinals at PCHS last week — Murphy said it’s a different feeling when the team takes the field Thursday at Radford's Division I complex.
“It’s definitely a nervous feeling, especially when you first get there,” Murphy said. “Hopefully, we’ll settle down, though, and start playing the way we know how as soon as the game starts.”
Because of their prior experience of playing in the state tournament, the players said they’re more familiar with the type of atmosphere to expect and the pressure that comes along with it.
“I think we’re comfortable,” Zimmerman said. “I think we know that if we play how we know how to play, it’ll be fine.”
One of the biggest keys to the trust the team has with each other, Zimmerman said, is how close they are off the field, where she said all of the players are “best friends.”
“I feel like, this year, we are as close as we’ve ever been,” Zimmerman said.
The Panthers’ quest to win back-to-back state titles was put on pause last Wednesday when the VHSL announced that all the Class 2 semifinal games were postponed to June 13.
That threw both the players and the coaches off, Fridley said, and forced the team to quickly refocus and get their priorities in order before stepping on the field.
“It kind of just threw things for a loop,” Fridley said. “Everybody is in the same boat as us. We had to make some sacrifices, but we’re going to make it work because this is where we want to be. It’s definitely not going to be easy. We just have to jump on top and make the least mistakes.”
Jumping out to an early lead is something Fridley and Murphy said they’d like to do in order to help Foltz, who has been electric this postseason, in the circle.
Foltz played a pivotal role in guiding the Panthers to the state championship last season and the Panthers have made it clear they’ll need to do their part to support her again if she’s going to do the same thing this season.
“As far as hitting, our whole lineup can hit really well,” Fridley said. “Hopefully, we’ll all show up at the same time. Every time we step into the box, our mindset is just, ‘Do your job.’ Whether it’s a bunt, walk, hit, whatever, we just have to get it done.”
Murphy said when the team is hitting to its full potential and the defense is playing well, as it did during last season’s championship run and has throughout a majority of this year’s postseason, Page is tough to beat.
“We try to play a really good defense behind her,” Murphy said. “She really sets a good example for us. When she’s throwing good, we tend to be more confident on defense and at the plate as well.”
As the players enter their final few days as teammates together, Zimmerman couldn’t help but note how important it is for the seniors to finish their careers on top.
After all the laughs and jokes they’ve shared over the past four years, they said they’re hoping for one more celebratory scene on Friday at Radford University with a state championship trophy in hand.
“We know what it feels like to be in that spot.” Zimmerman said. “Starting off this season, we knew this was where we wanted to be. I think winning last year just gave us that motivation to keep working hard in order to get where we want to be at the end. Hopefully we’ll finish the job.”