As the fourth inning drew to a close at McLean High Tuesday night, Madison’s softball team appeared headed for its first loss of the season. Their undefeated rival had outscored its previous four opponents this season 40-2, and now it held a 2-0 lead with two runners on base hungry for more.
Still, you didn’t get the sense that this was do-or-die time for the visiting Warhawks. No one in red revealed any traces of panic, their assertive communication and calm demeanors hinting that they, too, planned on staying undefeated.
The most composed of them all was Katie Vannicola, Madison’s sophomore ace who wouldn’t need any relieving despite starting five games last week. Vannicola and the trusty defense at her back escaped that two-runner jam in the fourth, then proceeded to do the exact same thing in the fifth and sixth innings.
“You’ve just got to learn to block them out,” Vannicola said. “You know that they’re [on base], but you’ve just got to focus on your pitching.”
Vannicola allowed nine hits in her complete game Tuesday. More importantly, she surrendered just one more run after giving up a two-run homer to McLean’s Sabrina Sanchez in the second inning. That resolve combined with some clutch hitting from her teammates to propel Madison (7-0) to an 8-3 victory Tuesday.
It wasn’t the first time Madison had clawed out of a hole this season. The Warhawks have trailed in three of their seven outings so far.
“I’ve been very proud of our girls about the fact that they didn’t give up,” said Jim Adkins, who replaced John Schneeberger as Madison’s skipper this year. “They keep fighting, they keep a positive attitude, they stay aggressive, and they realize it’s a seven-inning game. They don’t need to panic. We just stay with it and look for pitches that we can handle and execute whatever’s necessary to get the job done.”
Madison has long been a contender on the local softball scene, but Adkins and the rest of his new coaching staff seem to have brought a new energy to the team this spring. Accustomed to the rigors of travel softball with the Vienna Stars, Adkins is used to a level of discipline necessary to keep his teams competitive against the best. His staff pushes the Warhawks hard in practice, putting them through more sprinting and agility drills than in years past.
“They don’t let us slack off,” said senior shortstop Kat Olson, who slapped the single in the fifth inning that gave Madison its first lead Tuesday. “It’s basically going as hard as we can for the two hours we’re in practice.”
The Warhawks are coming off a strong 2013 season that saw them compile 19 wins en route to the Northern Region championship, where they fell to Stone Bridge 4-0. They earned a measure of revenge to start this season, pounding the Bulldogs 14-2 in the season opener. Having graduated multiple seniors, Stone Bridge (3-3) isn’t the same team that advanced all the way to the state final last year, but the win still gave Madison the confidence needed to set their sights on big things this year.
“At the end of the day, their expectations are high,” Adkins said. “They had a quality season last year. They reached the state tournament, but they certainly weren’t satisfied just reaching it. So we hope to just continue to build upon that and have the girls continue to get better every time we step on the field.”
The Warhawks could be destined for something special down the line, but for now they’re just focused on facing a red-hot Langley team this Friday.
“I told the girls, ‘We’re off to a great start, 7-0, but we’ve got 13 more games,’” Adkins said. “So the reality is we don’t want to get too excited about one win early.”