East Clarendon captures 1A crown

Lady Wolverines pull off improbable rally to get past Dixie 4-3

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TURBEVILLE - The game was over. Both sides were preparing for a Game 3 to decide who would be the 2017 1A softball state champion.

Then the unthinkable happened as Dixie High School second baseman Sommer Burton's throw sailed over first baseman Mackenzie Freeman's head, allowing Bailey Evans to reach on what appeared to be a routine final out. Then, with runners on first and third and East Clarendon trailing 3-2, Elly Floyd took the sixth pitch from Delanie Laudenbacher into right-center field to plate Zoe McElveen, who was running for catcher Abby Reardon, with the tying run.

With Floyd's hit taking much of the pressure off, Caitlin Timmons came up with a chance to win a state championship and did just that with a ball to right that Lady Hornets rightfielder Lauren Davenport couldn't quite get to on the dive. The hit scored Evans as the Lady Wolverines overcame a 3-0 deficit for a 4-3 win to claim their second state championship four years to the day after their first one, which also came over Dixie.

"The pressure was on, definitely," said Timmons of her team's title-clinching rally. "We just focused on getting base hits and we did, and we pulled it out. It was amazing (to get the winning hit). I don't even know how to describe it. It's amazing. I never would have thought I could have done that."

For Floyd, the last inning was eventful both offensively and defensively. Playing from her centerfield position, Floyd made a dive and came up just short on a ball hit by Davenport with one out in the Dixie seventh. It was one of those cases where a Floyd no-catch was probably best for the Lady Wolverines as rightfielder Evans was able to get to the ball and fire it in to third baseman Kinsley Driggers, who got it to catcher Reardon in time to retire Bailee New at the plate, keeping ECHS within one to help set up the winning rally.

"Honestly, at this point I've faced Delanie so many times. I've faced her since I was in the seventh grade," said Floyd, a sophomore, of her final at-bat. "I went up there and I just knew that I had been waiting on this for so long, and I just had a smile on my face. I trusted in God. I knew He put me in this situation for a reason, and I had to do it for my team."

ECHS head coach Lisa Ard said it was doubly special to win a championship on the home field and to have it come on the 4-year anniversary of the school's first softball state championship.

"It's hard to believe, isn't it?," said Ard, whose team swept its way through the state playoffs and finished with a 22-5 record. "This is a great comeback, especially to win it here. The whole town is here, and I hated to let them down. Marleigh (Floyd, who threw a 6-hitter) came in and pitched an awesome game. They got a couple of hits off her and we had some errors behind her, which could have really rattled her, and she never did let down. She came back in and she was hitting her spots, she was throwing strikes, she was getting fly balls, getting ground balls that we could play and our defense came together and started getting the job done. We just never quit."

While there was elation for the Lady Wolverines, there was disappointment and disbelief for the Lady Hornets as their bid for consecutive state titles ended in sudden and dramatic fashion.

"It's a tough way to lose, and it happened real quick," said Dixie head coach Gary Stone, whose team closed its season with a 30-7 record. "We had them right where we wanted them -- bottom of the seventh, bottom of the order -- and had the No. 9 batter (Evans) up and two outs. I get a good pitch call, inside pitch, something we can hit on the right side of the field, because she's so fast and we put it right where it needed to be to get the out. You've got to make the outs. When you get to this level and you don't make routine plays, you cannot beat teams like East Clarendon. Early on, they booted the ball around a little bit and we were able to score some runs, and good teams take advantage of errors. We took advantage of some of theirs and they took advantage at the end and got the last one. It is what it is. I hate it for my girls ... but you've got to get 21 outs and we fell one short. We got 20 tonight."

This was Dixie's fifth consecutive appearance in the 1A state championship series, with four of those coming against ECHS. The Lady Wolverines won in three in 2013, lost in three in 2014 and lost in two last year before winning again this season. Latta knocked ECHS out in lower state in 2015 and went on to defeat Dixie that season for the title.

Dixie's first run scored in the opening inning on a play when New, who led off with a double, crossed home plate as Reardon took the throw in time but failed to step on home plate before throwing to first in an attempted to complete the double play. Freeman was retired on the back end of the play, but Dixie still led, 1-0. The inning included an ECHS error and two fielder's choice grounders that resulted in all runners being safe.

The Lady Hornets struck for two more runs in the third, sending seven batters to the plate and collecting three hits while capitalizing on another infield error. The play of the inning came as Davenport slid around a tag attempt by Reardon to make the score 2-0. After an Alex Taylor single drove home Davenport, Freeman would score the third Dixie run on an RBI single from Tallie Clamp.

ECHS got one in the fourth, but could have had more. Gracen Watts reached on an infield single to open the frame and took second as Driggers took first on an infield error. Olivia Singletary advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt and Reardon lifted a fly ball to right that plated Watts to cut the deficit to 3-1. Driggers made a late break for third on the play and was easily thrown out for the inning's third out.

Mikayla Anderson, one of two ECHS seniors along with Evans, drew Laudenbacher's only base on balls of the game to open the bottom of the fifth. A wild pitch and a Marleigh Floyd grounder to the mound advanced Anderson to third and a fielder's choice grounder by Evans would score Anderson as the throw to the plate was bobbled by New, cutting the lead to 3-2 and helping to set up the dramatic finish.