COMEBACK 'CATS ARE CHAMPIONS! - Lexington rallies to win deciding game for Class 5A softball title
The 18-year wait for a state softball title in the trophy case at Lexington High School ended Friday night at Northwestern High School.
The Lady Wildcats defeated J.F. Byrnes 6-5 to claim the Best-of-Three Class 5A championship series.
In completing the comeback from 0-1 down to claim the program’s 5th state title, Lexington (26-4) rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the deciding game with 4 unanswered runs. Saige Stanley’s towering, tiebreaking home run in the Top 5th was Lexington’s 3rd of the contest and was the difference in the outcome.
“The girls did a great job hanging in there,” First-year head coach Laurie Epps said. “They didn’t give up. They continued to show their resiliency and they believed in each other and I’m so proud of these guys and how they came together and continued to be a team, no matter what happened.”
Lexington jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top 1st. After Jaci Fleming reached on a leadoff infield single, Hannah Kumiyama sent Haylee Whitesides' pitch over Tiara Pearson in leftfield and over the fence for her 2nd HR of the series.
It was the University of South Carolina-bound senior’s final at-bat as the Lady Rebels intentionally walked her each time she returned to the plate.
J.F. Byrnes (29-4) answered with 2 runs in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single by Kasey Widmyer and a RBI fielder's choice by McKinna Taylor.
The Lady Rebels then capitalized off 3 Lexington errors for 3 runs in the 2nd inning to take a 5-2 lead.
A solo home run to right-centerfield by Jessica Senn in the Top 3rd cut the deficit to 5-3.
After Fleming reached on a dropped infield flyball by Taylor at third base and Kumiyama was intentionally walked in the 4th, Sarah Gordon belted a 2-run single to tie the game.
“We know that every now and then, we might have those innings, but we know we’ve got to bounce back,” Epps said. “And we know that our bats have been key all season long and they came through tonight.”
With 1 out in the Top 5th, Stanley skied a 2-strike pitch by Widmyer into the night sky. As the ball fell downward, J.F. Byrnes’ Pearson once again found herself unable to make the catch as it fell behind the fence for the go-ahead score.
“I was more concerned that she was going to catch it,” Stanley said. “I didn’t think it was out, to be honest. I was very surprised. When I started running past first, I was like ‘no, that’s a home run.”
The Lady Rebels threatened again in the Bottom 6th with runners on 1st and 2nd. As Kumiyama caught a flyball by Whitesides in rightfield, she managed to make the throw to Stanley at 3rd base for the putout of advancing J.F. Byrnes' Hayden Bradley for the double play.
“Right before, I was like telling myself ‘She’s going to pop it up to you and you’re going to hose the girl at third. When she did it, I knew my throw had to be on point and I knew Saige had my back with the catch and tag right here.”
Another defensive play started by shortstop Alyssa McCraw and ended with catcher Sarah Gordon tagging out the potential go-ahead runner Laurin Nodine in a rundown to 3rd base ended the inning.
Light proceeded to get the final 3 outs in the 7th. After Peri Rouillard made the diving catch in centerfield for the final out, the celebration began for the Lexington players and fans.
“It’s all these girls,” Epps said. “They believed. They worked hard. They put the time in and they had fun. This is probably the most fun group of kids I’ve ever been around. They keep it fun and light-hearted and that’s how they play their best.”
The victory moved Lexington into sole possession of 4th place for most state softball titles in the S.C. High School League. It also marked the 2nd straight year a Lexington County team defeated J.F. Byrnes for the Class 5A championship after White Knoll won last year.
Read more about Lexington’s state title win with pictures in this week’s Lexington Chronicle.