They had come so close.
Last year’s Powhatan Middle School softball players had practiced for almost a month, and their first game was right around the corner on Monday, March 16, 2020.
That game would never come.
The Thursday prior, the team was sent home as COVID-19 gripped the nation. The pandemic quickly led to a nationwide shutdown and to a mass cancellation of public events.
The team never got to play a game that year.
In recalling what her players had said during practices and games this year, head middle school softball coach Melissa Clayton described how they would text each other last year and say: We should be getting dressed right now to go play.
Several of last year’s players came back to the team while others went up to the high school levels. This year, however, also was not normal. The 2021 middle school season had been made to align with the Virginia High School League’s condensed 2021 spring season, which started and ended later than usual. There was also no postseason, and the 2021 regular season featured a total of just eight games.
But the team embraced the opportunity to compete.
And after Powhatan Middle School softball’s players and coaching staff lost all of last season, they never lost a game this year. They went undefeated (8-0) in 2021.
“It was the greatest feeling ever,” Clayton said. “It was like a fulfillment that we were waiting for or we were missing…we would’ve liked to have a championship and played in a championship, but we were thankful to have an eight-game season, and actually to be able to play all games and know we didn’t have an issue with COVID…it was a fulfillment that I think a lot of us were longing for, and to be undefeated only made it better.”
Powhatan dominated its eight-game slate, winning its first seven games by 9 runs or more. In its closest game of the season – one that had been rescheduled due to COVID, and one that featured a new opponent in Fluvanna – Powhatan still left no doubt as it won that game 13-8.
As the scores helped indicate, Powhatan Middle School Softball in 2021 was definitely a strong hitting team. The batting lineup was stacked with depth as it featured a talented core in sixth grader Aaliyah Myers, seventh graders Mazie Harmon, Brooklynn Narbut and Hannah Boyle and eighth graders Olivia Snider, Reili Machotka and Marissa Anderson.
With so many strong hitters waiting to take their turn at the plate, opposing teams couldn’t just worry about and key in on only one or two consistently strong spots in Powhatan’s batting order. The team’s depth also ensured that, if someone wasn’t having her best day, someone else in the lineup could pick her up.
Powhatan’s standout hitting core was complemented by its talented pitching rotation, which was also stacked with depth. This year’s pitching staff featured Narbut, who was the starter, and eighth graders Marissa Anderson, Anna Tingle and Kendra Turner-Gregory.
Clayton described how “every single one” of the players “knew their role on the team” and “did what they needed to do for the team, not as an individual.”
“Every one of them, they supported each other. They would help them improve their game,” Clayton said. “It was just a unique group of girls.”
While this particular season was condensed – Clayton wished that it was longer – and there were not only still COVID-related restrictions like face masks and social distancing in place, but also the uncertainty of whether they would even play, and then for how long – Clayton said they “took every opportunity and made the best of it and enjoyed it.”
“Because nobody knew whether we would get a game in,” Clayton said. “The prior season, we practiced for a month. This season, we had a week, so I had tryouts, and then the next Monday, we had a game.
“It was a very quick, quick turnaround, but we were happy about it,” Clayton said, adding that her players “all missed it at the end; they knew that they were going to miss the group and the team and the practices.”
Had they not gone unbeaten, Clayton said they still would’ve been thankful to have even been out there.
“And so many teams that we played even said that, that it was just amazing to be back out on the field again, and for the girls to have this opportunity to play school ball and to represent their school.”
To Clayton, this 2021 team was a special group of girls.
“They worked hard for it. They definitely bonded together. They grew together as a team,” Clayton said. “They were always supportive of each other and built each other up.”
They learned more about themselves, she said – about both their own positions, about different positions on the field and about what it is to be a team.
“For some of them, this is the first experience of a school team,” Clayton said, “and I know, for some of them, it helped them tremendously – talking with them and their parents, it helped their overall outlook, especially coming off of 2020 with COVID.
“It made me happy to see them develop, and to grow,” Clayton said, “and to see them back to their selves again.”
Powhatan’s ascension to 8-0
Wednesday, April 21
Powhatan 10, Goochland 0
Wednesday, April 28
Lunenburg 4, Powhatan 20
Wednesday, May 5
Prince Edward 0, Powhatan 16
Monday, May 10
Powhatan 20, Amelia 11
Wednesday, May 12
Nottoway 1, Powhatan 14
Thursday, May 12
Powhatan 15, Cumberland 4
Monday, May 17
Powhatan 15, Central 5
Monday, May 19
Fluvanna 8, Powhatan 13
Powhatan Middle School Softball 2021
Sixth graders - Kensley Blaska, Aaliyah Myers, Lila Robertson
Seventh graders - Hannah Boyle, Mazie Harmon, DaZiya Henderson, Haylee Miller, Cassidy Moser, Brooklynn Narbut
Eighth graders - Marissa Anderson, Reili Machotka, Olivia Snider, Kendra Turner-Gregory, Anna Tingle