Lady Warriors keep it close against Western Branch

Published 1:36 pm Thursday, March 12, 2009

Despite a heartbreaking, 11-inning loss Wednesday at Western Branch High, the Nansemond River softball team left the premises in fairly good spirits. For a team that failed to reach the 2008 Southeastern District tournament, extending the defending tournament champions in a 1-0 loss was an exceptional effort. Add the fact the contest was the teams’ season opener and Warriors’ first-year coach Tim Tarafas smiled broadly when asked his thoughts on the game.

“I’m very pleased because we stuck together and never got down on each other,” he said. “Yes, we made six errors, but we at least had the composure to bounce back.”

Last season’s Warriors lacked cohesion and Tarafas has stressed accountability and enjoyment in the current campaign’s early going. On top of good chemistry, the team apparently boasts genuine talent.

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“We really didn’t know what we had,” Tarafas said. “But to play this well right out of the blocks is encouraging.”

Senior pitcher Jenna Bryant allowed lone Western Branch hits in the first and second innings but none from the third through the 11th. She began that inning with a strikeout but surrendered a single to No. 8 hitter Candace Zollars, which was followed by an error from second baseman Kayla Coburn that allowed Rhea Nichols to reach first base and Zollars to advance to third. Leadoff hitter Brittney Brinkley then won the game with a sharp single under the glove of a diving Coburn.

In a contest so long, there were several junctions that made for interesting postgame discussion. One came when the coach’s daughter, speedy shortstop and leadoff hitter Stephanie Tarafas, stroked a one-out single in the sixth inning but didn’t attempt to steal. A quirky play ensued when the next batter, Coburn, hit a flair that bounced down the first-base line but Tarafas stayed near the bag because she thought Western Branch first baseman Taylor McGee had caught the ball in the air.

McGee turned and tagged first to erase Coburn, then threw to shortstop Brinkley, who was covering second. Because Coburn had already been retired, there was no force play at second, but Tarafas pulled up and trotted back to the dugout and no one seemed to realize the mistake until several minutes later. Tim Tarafas said he chose not to have his daughter attempt to steal because Bruins catcher Teri Draper “has a gun for an arm” and because he had faith Coburn could slap a pitch past Sheri Draper for a hit.

In the ninth inning, Nansemond River catcher Anna Cain pounded a triple into right-center field with one out. But Rachel Hawks popped out and Alex Kaiser flied out and Cain was stranded. Should one of them have attempted a bunt, given that Cain’s hit was only her team’s fourth and turned out to be its last of the game? Tarafas said he considered it with Hawks at bat but elected to let her swing away.

“She can do it all at the plate and she’s a fantastic contact and power hitter,” the coach said. “She got impatient and swung and missed at the first pitch and that put her in a hole.”

Bryant finished with four strikeouts, three walks and two hit batters while Sheri Draper piled up 14 strikeouts and walked four. In addition to Stephanie Tarafas and Cain, Coburn and Ashley Davenport had hits for Nansemond River, which plays at Indian River on Friday before hosting city rival Lakeland on Tuesday.