RADFORD, Va. — Call it a two-day revenge tour for the Richlands softball team.
It ended with an elusive state championship.
“It feels amazing,” Richlands junior Lauren Earls said. “We were ready for this. We worked hard for this over the past two years, and coming back from a defeat like that two years in a row, we knew we had to do it this year.”
The Blue Tornado did just that, defeating Madison County 1-0 Friday at Radford University to claim the Class 2 state crown, avenging a pair of losses in the state finals in the previous two seasons.
“We were bound and determined to win it,” lone Richlands senior Ally Staten said. “We always said the third time was a charm, and it was.”
Richlands (23-5) had won Class AA titles in 1995, and ’96, but fell short in each of the last two seasons, losing by a combined score of 7-0 to Madison County in 2017 and Page County in ’18.
“I am just tickled to death for our kids, for our school, for our coaching staff and the town of Richlands,” said Richlands head coach Ronnie Davis. “It has been a while. They deserve it.”
Both were on the schedule in Radford, and the Blues were ready, defeating Page County 2-0 in Thursday’s semifinals, led by junior pitcher Mac Osborne, who struck out 13 batters and allowed just one hit. Emma Crawford homered and Staten also drove in a run.”
That set up a meeting with the Mountaineers, who had beaten Lebanon in the semifinals 2-0.
“I just wanted the feeling of excitement and joy like they had those two years,” Osborne said. “Just to work so hard and to have fallen short two times, it has made us stronger and closer as a team. We came out and got the job done today.”
Osborne was even more dominant against Madison County (24-3), striking out 16 batters, including the first 11 hitters of the game. Only five balls were put in play, and no balls reached the outfield. The Mountaineers managed a bunt single in the sixth and a walk in the seventh.
“I just wanted to win this so bad, especially coming off those two years,” said Osborne, who finished the season with a sterling 22-3 record and 316 strikeouts.
“If you would have asked me about it my freshman year, I didn’t know if we would ever come back, but through everything we have been through as a team, it was a team effort right here.”
Madison County had a plan to attack Osborne, but they were too often swinging at air.
“Our game plan was to come in and get some bunts down and get them to make a mistake,” Madison County head coach Jesse Yowell said. “Basically what we were figuring is the team that made the mistake today would be on the losing end and that is what happened pretty much.”
Richlands had early chances, leaving a runner on third in the first and bases loaded in the second, but opportunity finally knocked with two outs in the fifth when Earls sliced a double off reliever and East Carolina signee Logyn Estes. She promptly hustled to third when an Estes pitch popped out of catcher Cassie Smith’s glove. The next pitch sailed past Smith, but bounced right back to her. However, her throw back to the circle eluded Estes and Earls hustled home and slid under the tag at the plate.
“I got an aggressive lead because I was like if any ball bobbles or gets past them I am getting to third and getting in scoring position,” Earls said. “When she overthrew the pitcher, I was like ‘let’s go.’ I was ready to run. I was ready for it.”
That run would be enough for Osborne, who surrendered a sixth inning bunt single to Emilee Daniel and a two-out walk to Sophie Adams in the seventh. Davis was tempted to provide an intentional pass to Emily Seale next, but Osborne had other plans.
“She was so focused today. We know how good Madison is and she would have to be perfect,” Davis said. “Just like when Seale came up, I was wanting to walk her, and she said, ‘No, I’ve got it’. I trust Mac and she got a ground ball and she made the play.”
Seale hit a grounder to Earls at third base. The celebration would follow.
“Don’t overthrow first, that was my first thought,” said Earls, who was joined by Chloe Newberry, Kaitlyn Baldwin and Savannah Stevenson with a hit apiece. “I was like, ‘make a good throw and then celebrate.’”
Richlands didn’t win either the Southwest District or Region 2D championships, with both going to Lebanon, but the Blues won when it counted most.
“It is a thrill for our town and our community. I am so happy for the girls and Coach Davis,” said Richlands athletic director Greg Mance, who coached the Blue Tornado to the 2006 state football crown. “I know how hard they work and all they have been through and to get to the finals the last two years and to finally come home with the championship is just so gratifying.”
Don’t count out a return for the Blues, who will bring back eight of their nine starters, including Osborne, who will continue to dominate opposing batters for another season.
“Just through everything I have been through, my faith in the Lord has really brought me close and gave me confidence,” Osborne said. “I know that with Him on my side and my teammates playing behind me, anything is possible.”