Matthews and BCLL all-stars head to state

Published 9:34 pm Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Members of the 11-12-year-old Bennett’s Creek Little League all-star softball team include (front row, from left) Ryan Carter, Madeline Lape, Hayley Duckett, Brianna Rivera, Haleigh Carlin and Jordan O'Toole; and (back row, from left) Dominic Genito, Alissa Wilson, Natalie Hawkins, Sara Matthews, Janey Hall, Taylor Wampler and Leslie Matthews.

Members of the 11-12-year-old Bennett’s Creek Little League all-star softball team include (front row, from left) Ryan Carter, Madeline Lape, Hayley Duckett, Brianna Rivera, Haleigh Carlin and Jordan O’Toole; and (back row, from left) Dominic Genito, Alissa Wilson, Natalie Hawkins, Sara Matthews, Janey Hall, Taylor Wampler and Leslie Matthews.

Sara Matthews and the 11-12-year-old Bennett’s Creek Little League all-star softball team faced off last week against the best that local little leagues had to offer. At stake was the right to represent the area at the state tournament starting this week in Leesburg.

The Suffolk team clinched that right after defeating the Olive Branch Little League all-star team twice in the double-elimination tournament.

Of the three District 6 11-12-year-old teams participating, Bennett’s Creek got a first round bye while Olive Branch defeated the Churchland Little League Softball team 14-6. Then, last Sunday, BCLL defeated Olive Branch 8-6 only to see them again in the championship game after they emerged from the losers bracket.

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While the final score in Wednesday’s title game was closer, 7-6, Bennett’s Creek never trailed. The team’s head coach, Leslie Matthews said, “Our pitcher was the difference in the game.”

Pitcher Sara Matthews’ challenge in the title game stemmed from having thrown against Olive Branch a few days earlier, giving Olive Branch valuable information on how she plays in what was a very competitive game.

“I think the first game was the best game,” Leslie Matthews said. “It was back and forth.”

On Sunday, Bennett’s Creek trailed about midway through before tying it up, 6-6. Then, in the bottom of the next-to-last inning, Jordan O’Toole hit a single past the short stop with bases loaded, scoring the runners on second and third. In the final inning, Matthews and the defense quickly got three outs to end the game.

On Wednesday, Sara Matthews still managed to come up big for her team, but she detailed some of the challenges that Olive Branch presented for her.

“They figured out where I was pitching and how fast I was, so they were a little bit more used to it, and they were hitting more the second game than they were the first game, so my defense had to help me out a little bit,” she said.

Nevertheless, Coach Matthews praised her for her clutch pitching that got her team out of the fifth inning when they were up by two with two outs, but Olive Branch had loaded the bases.

The coach underlined her importance to the team when he discussed a hypothetical situation. At this age level, pitchers who throw three innings or more must be rested the next day. Coach Matthews played Sara on Sunday, but if Bennett’s Creek had lost, they would have had to play without her on Monday. He suspected that it would have meant a loss.

The 13-year-old pitcher said that the pressure of being so important to the team is not really nerve-wracking to her, though.

“It’s usually something that motivates me because I don’t want to lose, and I do my best when I get up there,” she said.

She highlighted two of her teammates that helped close out the title game.

“Jordan (O’Toole) got a clutch hit and my friend Hayley (Duckett) made the last out,” she said.

Coach Matthews spotlighted the strong play of catcher Brianna Rivera.

“When you’ve got a good pitcher, you’ve got to have a good catcher,” he said.

He also praised his offense, admitting that while they struggled some in the final, he thought everyone at least got one hit between the two games played. Some did well on Sunday while others picked up the slack on Wednesday, keeping Olive Branch off-balance.

He gave his perspective on why this Bennett’s Creek all-star team that was just formed on June 15 was so successful in the Virginia District 6 Little League softball tournament.

“They did it for each other more than for certain individual accomplishments,” he said.

To raise money for travel and hotel costs related to the state tourney, the team was busy fund-raising last weekend. Its effort included holding a cornhole tournament, raffling off donated items, selling Tupperware and holding a car wash. The Bennett’s Creek Little League also supplied some money to make the trip possible.

The 2013 Virginia State Little League softball tournament begins today. It runs through July 14 for all teams, and for those that keep winning, it extends through July 18.