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Lady Comets punch ticket to state tournament

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Top, Katie Cole is tagged out at the plate. Middle, the ball falls just out of reach of catcher Fluff Strohm. Above, Senior Carol Fears threw a complete game Tuesday against North Stafford to earn the win, and a state tournament berth. (David Conner II photos)
SoVaNow.com / May 31, 2018

Halifax County High School senior pitcher Carol Fears delivered an impassioned pre-game speech and then pitched extremely well, while the Comet defense certainly did its job.

As a result, Halifax eliminated a solid North Stafford team at home Tuesday, 3-1. The Comets punched their tickets to the Class 5 A state tournament and earned an away trip today to Brooke Point in the regional finals.

Halifax will at least get to play in the VHSL Class 5 version of the elite eight. This Comet team has an emotional edge, and it would be unwise to dismiss them in next week’s state tournament.

Halifax certainly played very well in a taut regional semifinal.

Fears went the distance in the circle. She faced 24 batters, striking out three. She walked two batters and allowed four hits. She allowed one run, which came in the North Stafford seventh on a successful double steal. But Fears refused to get rattled and settled down to send North Stafford home.

Halifax collected one run in the second, one in the fourth and one in the sixth.

Halifax had limited offense, with eight hits. But it was more than enough, as pitching and defense ruled the day for these Comets.

Halifax went quietly in the first, but took a 1-0 lead in the second frame.

In the bottom of the second, Katie Cole cracked a leadoff single and advanced to second on an outfield error.

Fluff Strohm followed with a well-hit single, but Cole was out at the plate after an on-target throw from centerfielder Alison Carter.

After a Sydney Wilborn groundout got the runner to third, Karina Velazquez rapped an RBI single, getting the first run home.

Halifax had strong defense all day, but never more so than in the visitors’ half of the fourth. Fears got out of trouble by catching a liner off the bat of Mackenzie Cornell. Fears then wheeled around and delivered a perfect strike to Velazquez, who tagged out Jenna Pearson. She had led off with a double, but the visitors came away empty-handed.

Halifax got its second run in the fourth. Kaitlyn Richardson scampered all the way to third on a well-hit triple. She scored on a RBI single from Cole, who had three hits.

North Stafford missed another opportunity to create trouble in its half of the sixth.

The Wolverines got a Carter single, but failed to score after the Comets had a terrific double play that clearly took any momentum hopes away.

Cole doubled with one out in the Comet sixth, and later scored on a RBI single from Wilborn for a 3-0 lead.

Halifax allowed one run in the top of the seventh, as Pearson scored on a well-executed double steal. But Halifax sealed the deal as Velazquez threw to Wilborn for the final out, sparking a heart-felt celebration.

“One game at a time, like I said before. They gave it 110 percent, all out. Carol on the mound, she gave it 110 percent out there. Karina with a diving run to first. They left it all out on the field today,” said interim coach Jennifer Rutledge.

Halifax “really stepped it up. The heart and effort outweighs the talent every day,” said Rutledge, who expressed considerable pride.

Halifax chipped away and little things turned into enough offense. The defense was awesome.

Halifax took a positive step forward and now the Comets will go for the regional title.

Velazquez said Rutledge gave her the hit and run signal on her RBI hit and the Comet second baseman delivered.

“I had to do it. I had to put in play. It was all on the line,” said Velazquez. “Perfect timing.”

The Comets were on point defensively.

“The defense was on point today. .. We all came together. We had a really nice talk before the game, just saying we want it, we need to be, like, not perfect, but focused and determined,” said Velazquez.

Discussing that final out, the Comet leader said, “I saw it, I was like, here it is. I looked at Sydney at first base, and said, take it away. We’re in it (the state).”

Fears gave an emotional leadership speech before the first pitch.

Fears added the double plays were the benefit of extra practice. Fears had a key role in both, and a stellar effort in the circle.

Fears appreciated the Comets’ run to the state. “I wanted to do it for me and Olivia.”

Fears had been the closest friend of fallen teammate Olivia Noblin.

North Stafford head coach Julia Barcarczuk said, “We definitely had some struggles here and there, but they always knew how to pull through. They’re a very strong group of women. We just play their hearts out every game.”

Halifax went forward with an excellent effort. The Comets are now in the final eight of the state and may have exceeded some expectations with a superlative effort Tuesday.

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