Stoic in the circle
HUNTINGTON — As Hurricane High School secured the final out of its fifth consecutive Class AAA softball title, there was an occurrence rarely seen by Redskins coaches and players.
Tears were flowing down the face of Hurricane pitcher Harlie Vannatter as she celebrated the Redskins’ 11-5 win over George Washington on Thursday at Jackson Memorial Park in Vienna, West Virginia.
With the season freshly over, Vannatter could finally let out the emotion that built up in the past three months as she earned her third title in three years with the team.
It was a stark contrast to the normally stoic nature of the Hurricane hurler.
“Things just didn’t rattle her this year or in the tournament — all the way from sectionals,” Hurricane coach Meghan Stevens said. “When people got on base, she stayed calm and knew she had a good defense behind her.”
When George Washington scored three runs in the top of the first inning Thursday, it marked the first time in 14 games that an opponent scored more than two runs against Vannatter.
Undaunted, the junior came back with a pair of 1-2-3 innings while scattering just four hits over the final six innings — the lone mistake being a two-run home run to George Washington’s Emma Sitler.
The Patriots’ vaunted lineup proved to be tough competition, but Vannatter’s mindset was a bit tougher in two wins over George Washington in the state tournament.
“It wasn’t going to get handed to us this year,” Vannatter said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy ride. We knew we would get beat sometime, and we learned from the games we lost and just took it for the better. We didn’t forget about it. We just learned from it.”
Ironically, Vannatter’s growth came full circle in the state tournament by earning the two wins over the Patriots.
It was George Washington who handed Vannatter two losses in the regular season, including one during a three-game losing skid that tested the mettle of the Bowling Green University commitment.
Stevens said that stretch was just as vital to the 2019 championship as any wins the Redskins accumulated along the way.
“A lot of people talked about the shaky start to begin the year, but really I think it paid off down the line because she had to get mentally tough and she had to figure some things out,” Stevens said.
Vannatter’s formula for success is not complicated. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.
That formula? Clear the head, stay calm, work fast, be precise.
The first part of that equation is the most important, she said.
“I don’t think whenever I throw,” Vannatter said. “I just throw. Whenever I overthink, that’s when I do bad.”
While Vannatter appears emotionless on the outside during play, Thursday’s outpouring following the win indicated exactly how much the game and her teammates mean to her. Tears and smiles continued throughout the 45-minute on-field celebration.
Perhaps Vannatter’s most special trait isn’t the physical ability to pitch, although that is obviously a key ingredient.
Instead, it’s the ability to internally harness the emotions of a game while channeling them externally through her powerful right arm.
That is what turned Vannatter from really good to great in the latest championship run.