On May 16, 2016, the Burke girls softball team celebrated winning a Potomac Valley Athletic Conference title.
On May 16, 2017, it was a case of deja vu, as the Bengals toppled Oakcrest 5-1 to repeat as PVAC champions.
“We played defense in both years,” Burke coach Scott Reynolds said. “We had five shutouts in the regular season. It’s a pretty good formula — if you don’t give one up, it’s hard to lose. They’re just a good group of kids, and a tribute to the kids for stepping up and being aggressive on the bases and playing good defense. The kids bought into it.”
While the formula might have been the same, the Bengals did it with plenty of new faces. Only five key players returned to the lineup from last year’s title team.
“I thought we would take a few bumps at the beginning of the year,” said Reynolds. “We lost to Sidwell and Oakcrest early in the year. Getting the new girls into the system was difficult. But after league play, I thought we had a chance. I believe that we were both evenly matched, and we came out on top in the game that mattered.”
The team relied heavily on sophomore pitcher Vera Walsh-Alker, who only took up the position for the Bengals this season.
“She worked with a pitching coach all winter long. It didn’t happen by accident that she got better,” Reynolds said. “She didn’t walk a lot of people. She struck out 88 on the season in 60 innings. In the championship game, she didn’t have any walks. It gives your defense a chance when you aren’t giving free passes.”
In the title game, Walsh-Alker limited Oakcrest to just one run.
Meanwhile, the Bengals offense gambled early and often by stealing 10 bases to help fuel Burke’s offense. At the plate, junior shortstop Chandler Hawkins notched a pair of RBIs and stole home; senior Mimi Thomas had two hits; and junior Sofia Ohanian got a hit and took a walk, and brought in the fifth run of the game with a triple in the top of the seventh inning.
“Be really aggressive,” Reynolds said. “There will be times where you give up an out because you were aggressive. But you gain so much more by being aggressive, if you occasionally give up an out you’re OK with that.”
Walsh-Alker was named Most Outstanding Player of the playoffs for ringing up 27 strikeouts while allowing just two walks. In addition, Ohanian was named PVAC Player of the Year, recognized for her strong hitting as well as her outstanding play as catcher.