Junior Lauren Fulford smacked a 1st inning home run Thursday at Randolph- Henry, giving the Nottoway Lady Cougars a 1-0 lead over the #1-seed Lady Statesmen (20-2) in the Region 2A East championship game.
That would prove to be Thursday’s only bright spot as Nottoway batters struck-out a total of 14 times, and the Lady Cougars didn’t score again, losing, 8-1.
Fulford’s shot over the left centerfield wall was one of only three hits for the Lady Cougars against R-H’s sophomore ace, Danner Allen.
Thursday’s loss was Nottoway’s third this season to its formidable James River District foe. The Lady Cougars lost two earlier contests, 9-0 (May 17th) and 2-1 (Apr. 21st).
However, #10 seed Nottoway far surpassed its 2022 postseason expectations.
After finishing the regular season 8-10 and in 5th place in the eight-team district, the seniorless Lady Cougars reeled-off three straight postseason upsets: 5-4 at #7 seed Arcadia in Accomack County on May 24th; 4-2 at #2 seed Windsor in Sussex County on May 30th; and then perhaps their most exciting upset the next day (Tuesday, May 31st) at #6 Nandua in a return trip to the Eastern Shore.
After losing a 4-1 lead in the 6th inning, the score was knotted 4-4 after regulation.
Unshaken, Nottoway outscored the home team, 3-2, in that extra inning to pull-off an improbable 8-7 road win.
Junior All-District outfielder Diamond Jennings belted a two-run double, scoring Marissa Vaughan and Cheyenne Estep.
Jennings stole 3rd base on a Baileigh Lewis bunt attempt then ran home on an overthrow for what would prove to be Nottoway’s game-winning run.
Fulford went the distance pitching in that eight-inning thriller, striking-out four batters. Nottoway’s defense committed no errors.
“Cardiac kids,” Head Coach Travis Andrews said proudly of his 2022 squad, which saw eight of its games decided by just one run. The Lady Cougars won six of those contests.
The May 31st win over Nandua was the first time Nottoway surged above the .500 mark all season, improving to 11-10.
In fact, the only time Nottoway had touched the .500 mark previously was two months earlier — March 29th — when the Lady Cougars were 2-2. They were a disappointing 3-7 on April 18th and only 4-8 on April 28th.
The 2022 Lady Cougars are only the second Nottoway softball team to advance to the Region 2A East championship. The first came in 2019 (Nottoway lost 1-0 to Page County), but that Lady Cougar team was dominant much of that season and finished 19-4 — one of the best records in program history.
As fate would have it, Nottoway was scheduled this week to take on Page in the opening round of the state Group 2 Tournament.
Coach Andrews said that no matter what happens, with all 2022 players eligible to return — plus some possible up and coming talent likely joining the roster — expectations will be high in 2023.
But for now, he said, he’s just “really proud” of this year’s effort.