It couldn’t have been any closer, a hard-fought extra-inning outing that came down to a single pitch, a single call, a single run.
But on Tuesday night, before what may have been a record crowd, Chipley downed the Franklin County Lady Seahawks 5-4 in nine innings, securing a regional championship and a berth in the state semifinals,
“There’s not a dry eye on the field on our team, very sad,” said Coach Scott Collins. “They really wanted to get back to the Final Four they knew it would be tough, and I knew it would be tough.”
After a dismal top of the first, in which senior Megan Collins allowed four runs, she settled down and blanked the Tigers for the next six innings of regulation, and in the eighth. But in the top of the ninth, senior third baseman Lauren Finch, headed next year to Chipola State College, smashed a 2-2 pitch over the right field fence, for a solo homer and a one-run lead.
“We knew about her,” said Scott Collins. “That ball was supposed to be down and away. She left it a little bit up and the girl punished it. Not many girls in high school hit home runs the opposite way. She’s a big strong girl andshe drove it over the right field wall.”
The coach credited his players for a gritty performance, as they crept back with runs in the bottom of the first, third, fifth and sixth to tie it at 4-4 in regulation.
“The only way we got back in it was by scrambling and manufacturing runs, on bunts and stolen bases,” said the coach. “Our bunters and slappers did a great job. I give all the credit in the world to our slappers, our speed girls. They did an unbelievable job of finding a way to get on base, that kept us in the game.”
“We never squared up on the ball like we normally do,” said Collins, extending credit to the pitching performance of senior Grace Gilbert.
“It’s hard to hold our team down to no real hard hits,” he said. “We had no rips, no doubles, nothing except foul balls; we hit a couple of them hard.
“Our hitters are better than that. They just couldn’t square up on the ball tonight,” said Collins, whose team finished the season at 22-7.
Managing to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth, junior Madison Smith was thrown out at home on a ball hit to the shortstop for the second out, in what many fans thought was an errant call.
The loss followed a big win in the regional opener last week, as the Lady Seahawks on Friday downed South Walton 5-2 on a blustery evening in Eastpoint.
The Lady Seahawks spotted South Walton a pair of runs in the top of the first, and then mustered their guns in the final two innings to advance to the regional final.
In the top of the first South Walton’s leadoff batter drew a walk, was sacrifice bunted to second and the next hitter was hit by a pitch. The pitcher, Alyssa Selvey, hit a single into left field to score the lead off runner, and another single followed to score Selvey from second base.
Senior Megan Collins went the distance on the mound, hurling six scoreless evenings after her opening stumble.
Franklin County got its opening run in the bottom of the second, as senior Allie Kirvin drew a one out walk. Junior Alexus Johnson then lined a double into left center field to score Kirvin.
The Lady Seahawks tied it up at 2-2 with another in the fifth, when senior Adriana Butler smacked a two out single. She stole second base and then scored on a single up the middle by sophomore Sophia Kirvin.
In the bottom os the sixth, Allie Kirvin hit a one-out triple into the right center field gap. Johnson reached on an infield single, and then stole second base. Junior Michaela Cassidy squeeze bunted, but Kirvin was thrown out at home by the South Walton third baseman. Johnson advanced to third.
Smith then came up and singled to score Johnson and move Cassidy to third. Smith stole second base and then sophomore Melanie Collins singled to right field to score Cassidy and Smith.
In the seventh, Collins loaded the bases with an intentional, but consecutive catches by Kirvin at first base, and right fielder Smith ended South Walton's hopes.
"I guess it was worth missing graduation," she said, referring to the ceremony at Gulf Coast State College that she would have taken part in, with five other Franklin County seniors, had rain not postponed the regional seminfinals from Thursday to Friday.
Chipley (16-7) routed Bozeman 10-0 to earn a berth in the regional finals.