Stars aligned for national-level winPublished 10:28pm Wednesday, July 24, 2013
The Orion Hunter Fastpitch 14U softball team, featuring several Suffolk players, went 8-0 at a national-level tournament in Virginia Beach last weekend to reach the championship game in a 20-team field. The final showdown had significant ups and downs for Orion Hunter, but it was still the team smiling in the end, with a 13-10 extra-inning victory at the SoftballNation East Zone 14U National Tournament.
“We’re one of the few teams I believe that are gelling at the right time,” Orion Hunter head coach Shawn Jackson said.
He said that many teams are tired at this point in the year after enduring a demanding schedule, including school ball and schoolwork, since winter. His team experienced the same workload, but “we’ve just weathered the storm and come out on the other end looking good,” he said.
The metaphor was fitting for last weekend’s championship game against the Richmond Rampage. Orion Hunter took a substantial early lead and then got into trouble.
Suffolk’s Caylan Harrison, who played catcher and was named to the all-tournament team, said, “I was really scared. We were up 9-1, and then they got like six runs. It was 9-7, and I was nervous that they were going to win, but I still had that confidence in the back of my mind.”
Later, the Rampage actually closed the gap entirely, 9-9, forcing an eighth inning.
“We tried to compose ourselves, and we came back,” said shortstop Lauren Davis, a rising sophomore at Nansemond River High School who was also named to the all-tournament team.
Left-fielder Delaney Taylor, a Nansemond-Suffolk Academy rising freshman, agreed with Davis, saying, “That was just so stressful, but we got through it, and we pushed and battled back hard.”
In the extra inning, the International Tie Breaker rule applied, automatically putting a runner on second base to start the inning. That runner was Caylan Harrison’s identical twin sister, Kelsey Harrison. Then Richmond walked Davis and Orion Hunter’s pitcher Caroline Helmer.
Next, Brianna Anderson came up to bat.
“She hits a bomb right through the infield and all three of us score, and she was on third,” Davis said.
Anderson later scored to make it 13-9 going into the bottom of the eighth. The Rampage made a game of it, but the Orion Hunter team finished the way it started the tournament.
“We went in confident and ready, and we came out with a trophy,” first/second baseman Kelsey Harrison said.
Davis said the bond of friendship among the players made the difference for her team.
“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “We know how a person’s going to react to certain things because we’re friends with them.”
Kelsey Harrison, a rising sophomore who is home schooled along with her sister, highlighted how her teammates excelled.
“Lauren was hitting really well (last) weekend,” she said. “Delaney had the last out in the last game, and my sister Caylan, she caught just about every game this weekend except for a couple innings, and she did a really good job back there, and had a lot of plays.”
Out of four pool play games, Caylan had a break for part of one, but then caught in all the double-elimination games, three on Saturday and two on Sunday.
Jackson praised Taylor, saying, “She was our lead-off batter, she led us in on-base percentage.”
With regard to Kelsey Harrison, he said, “She was a defensive gem for us all weekend and came through with some clutch hits, as well.”
Eight girls were new to the team this year, including all four girls from Suffolk.