Mustangs take wild ride to Lower State championship in Hartsville
MIDLAND VALLEY 9
By NOAH FEIT
GRANITEVILLE — In a game of wild momentum swings, Midland Valley staved off Gilbert, and elimination, in a 9-8 victory. The top of the seventh inning was a microcosm of the back-and-forth Class AAA softball playoff game.
Holding a slim one-run lead, the Mustangs were just three outs away from Monday’s Lower State championship. But they had to hold off the Indians, who had trimmed a six-run deficit to the single score.
Midland valley starting pitcher Kelsey Boatwright retired the leadoff hitter on a fly ball to center. But Gilbert’s next batter, Caitlyn Sheppard doubled off the center-field fence. Following that, it looked like Boatwright was going to get the second out on another soft fly ball. But it fell to the ground in shallow center – where neither Jace Bennefield nor shortstop Carly Clark could corral it.
That put runners on the corners for Gilbert’s Lyndie Dorgan. She lined a Boatwright pitch to third baseman Amber Hong, who made an astute play to cleanly field the ball and swipe Sheppard back to third. But Hong’s throw to first was off target and Dorgan reached safely, loading the bases.
With just one out, it seemed like Midland Valley would need to come to bat in the bottom of the inning to try and win – or tie – the game. But Boatwright showed toughness beyond her freshman status. She went right at Gabby Keisler, inducing a pop up back to the circle. As Boatwright squeezed the ball her battery mate Morgan Smith urged her to throw down to first, where Dorgan was nowhere to be seen, still running on the pitch she thought was put deeper into play. Boatwright made the throw to first baseman Taylor Allen for an unusual but game-winning double play.
“It was up and down with momentum swings. … I didn’t realize it,” Mustangs head coach Michelle Yeater said of the play that Smith spotted immediately. “Morgan was behind the plate and said to go to first. She was the hero there. She was ball smart and knew the situation.”
The situation now for the Mustangs is a trip to Hartsville, where they must beat the home team twice to advance to the state championship series. Hartsville handed Midland Valley it’s only loss this postseason Wednesday, when it squeaked out a 2-1 victory.
While the odds are against Midland Valley, it showed it’s mettle against Gilbert – a team that had beaten it twice this season. Like the loss to Hartsville, both of the Mustangs’ losses to the Indians were by a single run.
“We kept saying, “third time’s a charm,’” Yeater said of the third contest with the Region 5-AAA champions. “This was a battle between the girls.”
It was a battle of the bats. Midland Valley escaped a pair of bases-loaded jams in the first two innings without surrendering a run – foreshadowing the dramatic finish. It also jumped out to a quick lead on Smith’s solo home run in the first inning. It was the first of five round trippers on the day, as the wind blowing out helped carry some well-hit fly balls beyond the outfield fence. Gilbert used a three-run homer in the third inning to take the lead, but it didn’t last long.
The Mustangs batted around in the bottom half of the third, sending 10 players to the plate before making an out, and 12 in the frame. Clark connected with a bases-loaded double, scoring two runs. Two more runners scored when Smith followed with a hard-hit fly ball that the left fielder deflected with her glove, botching the catch.
“We kept hitting,” Yeater said. “The top of our order can hit anytime. That started to trickle down.”
But the biggest hit came three batters later. After reloading the bases, Gracie Gunter emptied them in a hurry. The Mustangs sixth hitter in the batting order blasted a grand slam that gave her team a six-run lead and what looked like control of the game.
For her part, Yeater urged her players not to get complacent, knowing how tough the Indians were. She was proven correct the next inning, as the visitors blasted two more home runs to cut the deficit in half. Gilbert plated two more runs in the fifth inning, while Midland Valley batters went 1-for-10 in their final at-bats in the game. That set the stage for the frantic finish and a return trip to Hartsville.
“Hopefully they’re a little scared of us,” Yeater said. “If we hit and get confidence, we’ll be successful.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.
GIL 003 320 0xx – 8 12 1
MV 108 000 xxx – 9 6 0
WP: Kelsey Boatwright
LP: Lyndie Dorgan