BRIDGEWATER — Notoriously hard to please, Clint Curry couldn’t help but curl his lips into a smile and talk up his Turner Ashby softball team Tuesday.
A return trip to the Virginia High School League Class 3 tournament will do that to even the most grizzled coach.
And the way the Knights did it against Monticello in Bridgewater added a bit more gleam to his already pearly grin.
“We’re on a mission, man,” Curry said.
The Knights looked like they were in the Region 3C tournament semifinals.
And while the Mustangs didn’t look quite look like grass dressed in their black uniform tops with white pants, Makayla Cyzick played the role of Saturday morning church groundskeeper, mowing down 16 Monticello batters, giving up just one hit and mashing a no-doubt three-run homer in a 10-run second inning. It all ended with the Knights, the Valley District regular-season and tournament champions, leaving the field with an 18-0 win over Monticello.
“I’m pleased,” Curry said. “We got them down and things just went from there. I’m proud of these kids. It’s like I tell these ladies, though, be happy but don’t be satisfied.”
If anything, the Knights are having fun again after a regular season filled with self-inflicted pressure, catcher Carley Davis said, that came with being a Turner Ashby softball team with two Division I signees on its roster.
Back again were the gaudy cowboy hats in the Knights dugout, getting broken out when Cyzick, the No. 3 hitter in what turned into a 15-batter second inning, launched a 2-2 pitch over the fence in left. Gleaming in the afternoon sun, the sparkly pink and red, white and blue hats bounced as the players welcomed her home.
“The hats, they do help. They make us excited,” Davis, bound of Elon after graduation, said. “Coach Curry preaches to us to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves, because that’s what we do. We’re TA.”
The hats made a second appearance an inning later when fresh-off-JV Lauren Harper hit a solo shot to dead center in her second varsity at-bat, giving the Knights a 15-0 lead.
But it wasn’t just the lids that lifted spirits Tuesday.
“Makayla has thrown her heart out and our hitting has really taken off,” Davis said.
In the second, the hitting never stopped, even after Cyzick’s blast. Jordan Brittle slapped a pair of run-scoring singles, Paige Eavers laced a two-run double, Kaylin Howard’s run scoring hit, two walks and an error all kept the carousel of horrors spinning for Monticello and its dwindling chances at a comeback.
In the circle Cyzick was nearly untouchable, only allowing a seventh-inning double to Kiersten Zimmerman to go with her lone base-on-balls blemish.
“She worked on her location. She didn’t go out there and waste her legs or waste her arms,” Curry said of his Winthrop-bound hurler. “She just kept her velocity and worked her pitches, which you can do in a game like this.”
Cyzick tipped the cowboy hats toward the offense that gave her that early 14-run lead.
“When my team scores behind me I can settle down,” she said.
And she can set batters down and pitch the Knights to their second straight VHSL tournament appearance.
“We’re all so excited,” Cyzick said. “This is where we want to be. We’re getting closer and closer to our goal; we just have to take it one game a time.”
The next game will be against fourth-seeded Liberty in Bedford for Thursday’s regional championship game, a team that beat the second-seeded Knights in last year’s title tilt by rallying from a 9-2 deficit to earn a 10-9 win. Despite their seeding, Davis said she’s thought the Knights are the underdogs — a tough sell for a 21-3 team, but something she preferred.
“So we get fired up,” she said, flashing a smile as wide as her coach’s.