During a 15-game winning streak that brought the Hanover Hawks to their first Virginia High School League state softball final in 14 years, they relied on the superior pitching of sophomore Julia Cuozzo, timely hitting and tough defense.
On Saturday night at Hanover, opportunities on the base paths passed by the Hawks, and in one extra inning, their defense fell apart, opening the door for Amherst County to win the Class 4 state title with a 2-0 victory.
“That’s very uncharacteristic of us,” Hanover coach Michael Rohr said following his final meeting with the team after the game.
“I wasn’t prepared for that speech. I had to make it up as I went.”
Hanover (15-1) seized momentum early, as Cuozzo struck out the first nine batters, the final three after a 52-minute rain delay forced the tarp onto the field and volunteers helped to get it game-ready again.
In the fourth, the Lancers got their first hit, a two-out double from K.K. Ramsey.
Cuozzo fanned the next batter, bringing the Hawks up for what turned out to be their best chance to score.
With one out, a pair of walks to Bella Pastore and Lilly Parrish brought up Reagan Hill, who popped out to catcher Maddie Jennings. Amherst starter Dylan McNerney, who struck out 10, issued a walk to Cuozzo to load the bases, but Jenna Currie popped out to shortstop to end the threat.
For the night, the Hawks stranded seven runners, and an eighth was thrown out to end the third inning, foiling an attempt to advance to third base on a bunt.
Cuozzo and McNerney matched each other pitch for pitch, combining for 27 strikeouts. Cuozzo ended the night with 17, allowing only three hits. McNerney surrendered just two: an Alyssa Broaddus single in the third and a double from Beanie Acors to lead off the fifth.
Cuozzo’s final strikeout opened the eighth. Afterward, the Hanover defense failed the Hawks. Three errors, including a wide throw to first on what would have been the final out with runners on base for Amherst, and a wild pitch allowed two Lancers to score.
In the Hanover eighth, Pastore reached on catcher’s interference with two outs, and Parris walked. But on the first pitch to Reagan Hill, McNerney induced a popout to third baseman Sienna Fielder to end the Hawks’ dream of their first state championship since 2006.
The mistakes down the stretch will not define the team, Rohr said. Hanover loses three starters to graduation in Pastore, shortstop Julia Mardigian and Broaddus, who drove in the winning run in the Class 4, Region B title game against Orange County last week. Cuozzo will lead the rest of the Hawks into what is hoped to be a normal season in 2022.
The softball fan in Rohr briefly came out through the bitter disappointment, but so did his optimism.