St. Albans coach Christian Watts said his players have heard the rumblings — that the Red Dragons’ softball squad is all pitchers Kendal Stoffel and Tayven Stephenson and that the lineup is a possible flaw in the armor of an undefeated squad.
There’s no doubt that a team ERA of 0.49 is a driving factor.
So, when Stoffel or Stephenson are going, St. Albans is tough to beat. And when the lineup joins in, like it did on Saturday, the task becomes even more daunting.
The Red Dragons (27-0) got home runs from Stephenson, Jillian Holley and Jaden Conrad and climbed out of an early 1-0 hole and rolled to a 9-1 win over George Washington at John Adams Middle School to clinch the Class AAA Region 3 Section 1 championship. St. Albans will take on Greenbrier East in the best-of-three Region 3 series during the week of June 14-19.
It broke a string of three straight sectional titles and state tournament berths for GW. Although it was just the first step of what St. Albans hopes is a much longer journey, the moment wasn’t lost on the Red Dragons, who were on the losing end of the last two sectional title games against the Patriots.
“It feels really, really good,” Stoffel said. “This is our third sectional championship [game] and this is the first time we finally put all the pieces together and made it.”
George Washington (16-14), with a roster void of seniors, staved off elimination three straight nights heading into Saturday, knocking out Capital, Riverside and South Charleston in succession in doing so.
The Patriots’ struck first as Ana Jimenez led off the game by reaching on an error and eventually came home on an RBI fielder’s choice off the bat of Alaira Evans.
In the bottom half of the first inning, GW pitcher Maddie Smith took care of Stoffel and Holley as the Patriots seemed poised to carry that lead into the second inning. But Stephenson lifted a solo home run to right-center field to square things up at one and the early momentum GW had gathered was gone that quickly.
“It did, it felt like it went back to a 0-0 ballgame and a new game just started back at the beginning,” Stoffel said. “It made everybody take a second, sit back and start over and start hitting.”
The Red Dragons did just that, especially in the third inning. Aided by four GW errors as the Patriots visibly began to run out of steam, SA pushed six runs across to take a 7-1 advantage. The uprising was started and finished by eight-hole hitter Jaden Conrad, who hit a solo home run to lead off the frame and an RBI double to finish the scoring in the fourth. Eleven St. Albans hitters came to the plate, with senior catcher Holley also delivering a big blow with a two-run home run to left center.
Seven of St. Albans’ hitters scored at least once and five drove in at least one run.
“I haven’t said this yet this season but the girls … word gets around, what people say, what coaches say, and all year long it’s been that St. Albans isn’t anything without their pitchers,” Watts said. “And you just saw 1 through 9, our team put on an offensive show.”
As good as the offense was, pitching was never a concern as Stoffel shook off the early unearned tally and held GW at bay from there on out, striking out six, walking one and yielding three hits. The performance increased Stoffel and Stephenson’s combined streak to 21 games of yielding one run or less dating back to a 4-2 win over Morgantown on April 23.
Alexis Adams went 2 for 2 with a double to lead the GW offense. While the Patriots came up short of advancing, their run through the losers bracket after dropping a 4-3 decision to South Charleston in the sectional opener points to good things to come for a team that could come back completely intact next year.
“These girls, as young as they are, I just talked to them and let them know how proud we are of them,” GW coach Antonio Jimenez said. “Their age and the wear and tear this season has brought on them — not playing before, some of them not having any idea what high school ball is, playing 20-plus games in two months and the long preparation process we went through with the delay — they were really tired, my freshmen were.”