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The Highlander

The Student News Site of McLean High School

The Highlander

The Student News Site of McLean High School

The Highlander

Simpson makes a state-ment

Star pitcher leads McLean softball team to 2023 state championship
Simpson Stares Down — Junior pitcher Hailey Simpson stands on the mound before throwing a pitch. The team beat Wakefield 5-0 in a regular conference game.

It didn’t take long for junior Hailey Simpson to make her mark on McLean softball. In her two years on varsity, Simpson has collected a list of accolades, including being named to the All-State and All-Met 1st teams and earning the titles of All-District Pitcher of the Year and All-Region Pitcher of the Year.

Her impact already extends far beyond her numerous awards. Simpson’s consistent stardom was one of the main pieces which propelled the Highlanders to the state championship. Excitement about Simpson’s potential began during her sophomore year when she broke into the role as starting pitcher.

“I actually had to go in because the original starting pitcher got hurt, so it was pretty unexpected,” Simpson said. “I was really comfortable. Our team is very close so I wasn’t stressed about it because I felt super calm in my role and my team was there to support me.”

McLean experienced some success during Simpson’s freshman year, but the season ended with a loss in the state semi-finals.

“We were very close,” head coach Maurice Tawil said. “We knew we had the makings of a state championship team, just had to get a little bit farther along.”

Heading into the 2023 season, Simpson and her teammates were determined to make it just as far into the playoffs and bring home a state title.

“Coming into this season, I was playing with so many girls who loved the game as much as I did, so there was a lot of excitement surrounding our season and what we were going to do,” said Maddie Staats, a junior centerfielder for the McLean softball team.

The Highlanders went on to win the Liberty District championship, but fell short to James Madison High School in the regional championship. As district champions and regional runner-ups, the team was prepared to make some noise in the state tournament.

“We played the state quarterfinal game versus Lake Braddock, which was very intense and back-and-forth,” Simpson said. “We were able to win, which gave us the energy to face our next opponent, Kellum, a team from the Virginia Beach area.”

The Highlanders found themselves on the brink of elimination against Kellum, trailing 3-1 for most of the state semi-final game. Riley Staats, a key player for the Highlanders and a member of the U-15 USA Women’s National softball team, hit a home run that tied the team at 3-3. The game went into extra innings and finally ended with a McLean victory.

“Our momentum going into the state final game was so high, there was so much excitement surrounding the team and we felt very prepared,” Staats said.

It seemed only fitting that McLean had the chance to face the Madison team again in the state finals.

“Since we had lost to [Madison] in regionals, we knew we were the underdogs,” Simpson said. “That definitely could have freaked the team out, but we didn’t put a lot of pressure on ourselves.”

The excitement of the championship game was palpable. Both teams exhibited an intense will to win and would not give up easily.

“Before the game, my coach and I talked a lot about my pitching approach because I didn’t pitch very well against [Madison] the first time we played them,” Simpson said. “So, we talked about different pitches that I could throw in order to play my best and trip up the hitters on the opposing team.”

Simpson, along with the rest of her team, came out with energy at the beginning of the game. The team was determined to correct past mistakes, playing very tactfully and earning important runs to get ahead of their opponent.

“Maddie Staats hit an RBI in the championship game which gave us the lead,” Simpson said. “Her hit was a crucial play because we needed that base hit and that helped us win.”

Ultimately, the Highlanders were able to seize the early lead and keep it until the very last inning. Despite the tough competition, the team was determined to play calmly and face their opponent with steady confidence.

“We were very chill throughout the game,” Simpson said. “[Madison] just kind of came out flat and we ended up being on top.”

The Highlanders pulled out the state championship win with a final score of 2-1. It was their first state championship since 2010.

“Winning states didn’t feel real. When the game ended, we all rushed onto the field and we were just screaming and hugging each other,” Simpson said. “It all happened so fast…it didn’t even really hit me until like a week or so later.”

With a state championship win under their belts, the McLean softball team is looking forward to their upcoming spring season.

“[The team] is going to be eager, just as they were last season. This is a very, very fine team and I think we’re going to be up for the task,” Tawil said, “We are going to put our best foot forward coming into this season.”

As for Simpson, she is determined to continue to foster a positive environment for her teammates and maintain the family-like vibe that is so crucial to the team’s success.

“Having good team chemistry is a super important aspect of our team and we are really focused on that,” Simpson said. “We are all close and we do a lot of team bonding activities like team sleepovers and trips, and I think that really improves our game on the field.”

Along with her play, Simpson provides her team with encouragement and support, making her a huge presence on the field.

“She’s very humble with how she acts she never has a chip on her shoulder.”

— Riley Staats

“She’s very humble with how she acts. She never has a chip on her shoulder,” Riley Staats said. “She’s always had this confident energy and she brings our whole team together and makes it feel like a family.”

Simpson’s positive attitude is contagious, which affects the moods of her teammates. Her ability to focus and her constant drive to improve her game sets her apart from other athletes.

“She’s very calm on the mound, you can never tell if we are winning or losing, and she controls her emotions very well,” Tawil said. “She’s a very bright and mature young lady.”

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