Maggie Josey didn't really even know how to describe the feeling of her last at-bat for the 2017 softball season.
"I don't really have any words to say - it just feels good," the Laurence Manning Academy first baseman said. "I was trying to execute and get the bunt down, and I didn't do that. But I knew I had to do something."
That "something" proved to be a walk-off RBI single in the third and deciding game of the SCISA 3A state championship series against Wilson Hall - one that lifted the Lady Swampcats to back-to-back titles with a 3-2 victory.
Trailing by a run in the bottom of the seventh inning on Wednesday at the Lakewood High School field, LMA got a much-needed 1-out RBI double from Abbie Beard to tie the game at 2-2 and eventually force extra innings.
With international tiebreaker rules in effect, it took only one batter - Josey - to bring home the winning run in the bottom of the eighth as she connected on a 2-2 pitch and drove it deep into center to score Ashton Rogers from third as her teammates stormed the field for the second year in a row.
The championship marks the eighth overall title for Laurence Manning and eighth under head coach Maria Rowland.
"Tonight was huge and we had to fight hard," said Rowland, whose team finished the season 26-9-1. "I knew it was going to be a battle. I'm proud of my girls. I've got 17 girls and some of the best coaches I've ever had and I'm so proud of all of them.
" We had to get through that adversity and we had to learn from that adversity."
It was a tense championship run to say the least, especially in the later innings. Laurence Manning had been shut down by WH starter Drake Ives most of the night, scoring just once on a passed ball in the second inning.
However, needing to get something started in the bottom of the seventh, senior catcher Baylee Elms obliged by taking first after being hit by a pitch. Another passed ball on a strikeout moved her to second with Beard stepping to the plate.
The LMA second baseman connected on a 1-1 offering for the Lady Swampcats' only extra-base hit of the game - a double all the way to the wall in left-center to easily score Elms.
"I was just looking for a base hit," Beard said. "I knew if I got on and the runners moved up we had another good hitter coming up who would knock them in. I had complete confidence.
" But once I saw it roll to wall, I was like, 'We've got it; we've got this. ' "
The momentum shift certainly seemed to carry over into extra innings. The Lady Barons began the eighth inning with Liza Lowder on second base, but that was as far as she got as Laurence Manning starting pitcher Liz Hussey got two strikeouts and a groundout to keep Wilson Hall off the scoreboard. Hussey finished allowing two runs, one earned, on seven hits with no walks and eight punchouts.
Hussey's quick inning set the stage for Josey, who missed on a couple of early bunt attempts, but didn't miss after a wild pitch sent Rogers to third. Her rope to center was likely deep enough to score Rogers regardless, but with WH playing in, it easily found the grass as Laurence Manning won the best-of-3 series 2-1.
"For (Josey) to be first year on the team, and for her to battle the way she did in that at-bat was huge," Rowland said. "She had a good series and I was really proud for her."
Josey, Beard and Rogers had two hits apiece to lead LMA with Elms, Cora Downer and Brooke Ward also tallying base knocks.
It was almost another game of missed opportunities as the Lady 'Cats left 11 runners on base, including seven in scoring position. Hits by Elms and Beard in the bottom of the first helped LMA load the bases with no outs, but Ives pitched around it by getting a strikeout, a come-backer to the mound for a force out at home and a fly ball to left to neutralize the threat.
Ives also pitched around trouble in both the fourth and fifth innings as Laurence Manning got a pair of runners on each time, but was unable to bring any home. Ives wound up giving up three runs on eight hits with two walks, one intentional, a hit batsman and seven strikeouts.
The Lady Barons had the lead for a good portion of the game. Carly Allred reached on a 1-out error in the top of the third and came home on another error against the next batter to tie the game at 1-1.
In the fourth, Wilson Hall got four straight hits off of Hussey with a sacrifice bunt thrown in as Sydney Jarecki scored the go-ahead run on Madison Sliwonik's RBI single over the second baseman's head.
That was the only run the Lady Barons could push across, however, as they also failed to cash in on a handful of scoring opportunities. WH left 10 runners on base, including seven in scoring positon.
"At some point, something had to give," said Lady Barons head coach Teresa Alexander, whose squad ended the year with a 23-16 record. "Unfortunately it wasn't in our favor. Yeah, we had opportunities early on that we didn't capitalize on, but they did too. That's just a credit to two phenomenal pitching performances from Hussey and Drake tonight, and two really great defensive teams behind them.
"..It was just another great Laurence Manning-Wilson Hall matchup. We didn't give them anything; they earned it and congratulations to them."
While disappointed with the outcome on Wednesday, Alexander was not disappointed in the season as a whole - which saw WH climb back from being under .500 at one point to just two outs away from a state title.
"Usually when you lose a state championship as a coach, you feel devastated," she said. "But I honestly don't feel that way. The competitive part of me is having a hard time walking off the field, but the growth of our team this year is such a success."
Allred had two hits to lead the Lady Barons. Danielle deHoll, Kathryn Sistare, Sliwonik, Jarecki and Lowder all had hits, with Lowder recording a double.