William Monroe versus Madison County softball, Friday 7 p.m.
The basics: The Dragons have made a big push to be contenders in the Bull Run District over the last three years and while they’ve had their struggles against the Mountaineers, it was Monroe that was the last team standing in the playoffs as it made it to the Region 3A West semifinals. Madison has been the most consistently strong softball program in Central Virginia since 2010. The Mountaineers are a versatile group, one that features a pair of strong pitchers, a solid defense and an offense thrives behind situational hitting and team speed. The Dragons have a freshman pitcher in Jessica Ford who’s been nothing short of a workhorse and feature a lineup that has a lot of power. Their defense is young, but has shutdown great hitting teams like Orange County earlier in the season.
Key matchup: Madison’s pitching combo of Meghan Shifflett and Logyn Estes against the heart of Monroe’s order. Pardon the baseball analogy, but when the shoe fits… think of Shifflett as a veteran knuckle baller like R.A. Dickey or before him, Tim Wakefield. The senior hits her spots, plays behind her defense and all of her pitches have movement. She doesn’t try and overpower hitters, but she and senior catcher Sam Breeden work well together and Shifflett’s strength comes from her ability to change speeds and keep hitters constantly guessing, off balance. Estes brings raw power, even though she’s just a freshman. She’s more like the hard-throwers the program’s had before in Jordan Aylor and Lauren Seale. That balance between styles with Shifflett and Estes will be huge as they try and keep Alexis Wayland, Ford and Emma Pickett from getting extra base hits. All three of those Monroe hitters in the heart of the order have the power to find the gap and go deep. The Dragons need their big sticks to come through and the Mountaineers need their combo of pitchers to get ahead in counts and avoid leaving pitches upstairs in the zone.
Who to watch: Madison’s Samantha Breeden. She’s the veteran catcher who’s a vocal leader and hits hard. The Mountaineers like to play defense and manufacture runs rather than swing away but Breeden is one of the Mountaineers that can change a game with one swing. Plus, since she’s catching two different pitchers in most games, she’s a huge factor behind the plate.
The line: Madison by 1. The Mountaineers have experience and home field advantage on their side in addition to a five game winning streak (after Tuesday it could be six). Monroe’s won some clutch games and has a youth movement that’s going to be really big, but they’ve also coughed up some sizable leads behind errors.
Western at Monticello baseball, Thursday 6 p.m.
It’s Western/Monticello week and this clash has all the makings of the main event during a week where the two cross-county rivals face off in everything but tiddlywinks. The Mustangs sit alone atop the Jefferson District standings with a 5-0 mark in the JD, while Western is 3-2 in JD play and got a big win last week against Louisa County. Kevin Jarrell hit a home run last week again Fluvanna for Monticello while the Warriors counter with Henry Kreienbaum’s powerful bat. Depending on how the pitching shapes up, this one could be a classic.
Albemarle at St. Anne’s-Belfield girls lacrosse, Friday 5 p.m.
Albemarle passed a significant private school test last week against Covenant with a decisive, definitive victory over the Eagles. Now they’ll take on the Saints who last week got huge performance in the cage by Brittany Schoeb to bet Episcopal. The Saints also are one of the few teams that have the defense to potentially contain the Patriots’ array of scoring options (Jenn Wendelken, Morgan Rose and several others) and the firepower (Annie Cory, Caroline DiGiacomo) to outscore Albemarle on the other end. This could be an excellent measuring stick type game for the Patriots.
Albemarle at Western girls soccer, Saturday 4 p.m.
This clash pits the area’s top two soccer programs head-to-head and has the potential to be one of the most hotly-contested, well-played girls soccer games of the year. The Warriors are still working out some kinks after losing dynamic striker Anna Sumpter to injury during the offseason, but there is a ton of young, battle-tested talent roaming the field for the Warriors. Albemarle is getting it done in the aggregate so far this season on offense with a variety of scorers from Hannah Eiden to Leticia Frietas stepping up each night while the defense is its usual stingy self. Both teams will have a much better idea of where they stand after this one.
Albemarle at Western boys soccer, Saturday 6 p.m.
The Warriors are still searching for their identity a bit while the Patriots have assembled one of their finest rosters in recent memory, stacked with talented attackers like Virginia Tech-bound Brendan Moyers and a rock solid defense backed up by Louisville-bound keeper Jake Gelnovatch. Still, both teams will be up for this one, a huge test for each team as they try and build toward the upcoming postseason. It’ll be interesting to see how the Warriors find a way to matchup against the loaded Patriots.
Team on the rise: Woodberry Baseball
The Tigers came up big last week. Beating the then-top team in the Prep League in Trinity Episcopal twice, 4-0 and then 3-2 was big enough. But taking down Highland 6-3 and then, playing tough against Covenant in a light-shortened game in six innings after burning all of its pitching in the previous three games over a four day stretch was all the more impressive. Patrick McDonald, Cameron Hill, John Harris… this team has depth. They’re winning close games, they’re hitting hard and they’re very young. Coach Chris Holmes has his team at 10-4 and playing the best baseball this program’s had in the last decade.