As Fort Mill softball coach Chuck Stegall met with media following his team’s Upper State championship game against Dorman, two of his players lurked just behind him with a water cooler. Just as he went to answer one of the questions, a wall of water washed over him.
Stegall didn’t seem to mind all that much. To be honest, it was probably the only thing for which he and his team weren’t prepared all night.
The Yellow Jackets collected eight hits from the top four spots in their lineup — including four in a row in a five-run sixth inning — to turn away Dorman, 10-5, and earn a trip to the 5A state softball title series.
Fort Mill is now two wins away from the program’s first state championship. The enormity of it all left Stegall at a loss for words.
“It’s just too much feeling. It’s been 30 years of being out here on the field,” Stegall said. “This group here, we had a lot of them in a camp six or seven years ago. I had thought about getting out at the 25-year mark.
“Watching the light bulb go off in their head and convincing them that they could hit it over the fence, convincing them they could make that double play, convincing them that they could do this … This team is doing it, but all the kids that came before these girls set the standard of what we were gonna do, what we were gonna work for and how we were gonna line up.”
Dorman (23-7) broke the seal just two batters into the contest. Cavalier center fielder Lydia Johnson did the honors, driving a deep fly ball over the wall in left-center and putting the visitors ahead, 1-0.
The advantage was short-lived, though. Brynn Bertolini led off the game with a base hit, while Maddie Drerup was intentionally passed after Bertolini was sacrificed to second. Both runners came around to score on a ball off Trista Reid’s bat that found the outfield grass. The Jackets would go on to leave the bases loaded but hold a 2-1 lead after an inning.
The Cavaliers drew level in their half of the third. Gracie Freeman led off the inning with a sharp single, then ventured home on a Blair Darby grounder to second. Dorman advanced another runner to second, but Drerup stranded the runner to end the frame with no further damage.
The thunder again roared from the top of the Jackets’ order in the bottom of the fourth. Ava Balsinger started the inning with a sharp double to right, which Drerup followed with a double of her own to plate Balsinger. Reid then pummeled a deep fly ball to center, which was enough to plate Drerup and put Fort Mill ahead, 4-2.
“That’s a magical space right there,” Stegall said of the top of the Fort Mill batting order. “When you put those kids back-to-back-to-back, you’ve gotta pick your poison.”
Fort Mill (17-5) added a single run in the fifth, with Balsinger again rapping a solid single to plate a Jacket baserunner. That minor spark turned out to be a preview for the huge fireworks show that would erupt in the sixth.
Vicki Lott started the inning with a line-drive double to right-center. Following the first out of the inning, each of the top four of Bertolini, Balsinger, Drerup and Reid reached base via a base hit. Drerup sandwiched a double among three singles from the foursome. Dorman pitcher Kasey Wolfe righted the ship and retired the Yellow Jackets, but not before the home side batted around and seized a 10-2 advantage heading to the top of the seventh.
The celebration would prove neither quick nor easy. Dorman worked three straight batters on base — scoring each — before recording the second out of the inning. Two more Cavaliers waited on the pillows to further slice into the margin, but Drerup induced a grounder to Emma Tisdale. Tisdale then fielded just in front of the bag, tossed across to Balsinger, and Fort Mill clinched its first trip to the title series.
“We just talked to them and said to get one out at a time and not try to make the hero play. Let’s just do what we do and get an out. If we gave up a run, we were fine,” Stegall said. “It let us relax. If they scored two runs, three runs or four runs — we were concerned about the outs. We were concerned about getting one out at a time.”
Fort Mill welcomes Lexington to The Hive Monday night for game one of the SC 5A state championship series. First pitch is slated for 7 p.m.
Catawba Ridge tops York to move to title round
The Catawba Ridge Copperheads defeated the York Cougars 7-2 to win the 4A Upper State Championship Friday night in Fort Mill — and in doing so, they earned their first berth to a state championship series in the school’s three-year history.
The Copperheads made the most of six hits in recording the win as they improved to 26-4 on the year. They will play the North Augusta Yellow Jackets in a best-of-three series next week for the state title.
Catawba Ridge rallied for five runs in the third to take a 5-0 lead. Kendra Murray, Janelle Ilacqua, and Braylon Lawrence were all credited with an RBI in the outburst. Sarah Rocheleau’s two-run double was the big hit in the frame.
The Copperheads added two more in the fourth inning. A pair of errors by York and Lawrence’s run-scoring single produced the runs.
York, which lost in the opening round and battled back to reach the championship round, cut the deficit to 7-2 with a pair of runs in the fifth. Avery Smith reached on an error, and Peyton Brooks followed with a single. Both rode home on a double by Marisa Reyes.
Chloe Burger pitched a complete game and recorded the win. She scattered five hits, struck out 11, and walked none.
Layla Clayton took the loss for York, which completed the year with a mark of 15-7. She also pitched a complete game. She allowed only six hits and struck out 10.
Lewisville punches ticket to state championship round
The Lewisville Lions edged the McBee Panthers 10-9 in eight innings to claim the 1A Upper State title Friday night in Richburg.
Lewisville will be searching for its second all-time state championship. The school’s only title arrived in 2018.
McBee got off to a quick start, taking a 5-0 lead in the top of the first. The Lions played catch up the rest of the contest.
“We showed our resilience tonight,” said Lewisville head coach Jerry Thomas. “This was a big team win.”
They rallied for four in the third to cut the deficit to 5-4. The Panthers took a 6-4 lead in the top of the fifth, but Lewisville answered with a score in the bottom of the frame to make it 6-5.
McBee added one more in the sixth for a 7-5 advantage. The Lions retaliated in a hurry. A bases-clearing triple by Saleena Rollings in the bottom of the frame gave Lewisville its first lead at 8-7.
“That was a huge hit for us,” added Thomas. “It gave us the lead and some confidence heading down the stretch.”
The Panthers wasted no time. They countered with two in the seventh, but Lewisville tied it with a run in the bottom of the frame to send it to extra innings.
The Lions rallied in the eighth for a run to earn the hard-fought victory. Abby Furr walked to open the inning. She stole second, and when she stole third, the McBee catcher threw the ball into left field to allow the winning run to score.
“Abby is an excellent base runner,” he added. “We knew if we could her on base, she could put some pressure on them.”
Alyssa Rollings and Jordyn Miller led the Lions with two hits each. Savannah Rollins added a hit and drove in a run.
Sarah Owens, who is an eighth grader, worked a complete game and got the win. She allowed 10 hits, struck out four, and walked three.
“We talked to her after the first inning and settled her down,” added Thomas. “She did a wonderful job after that.”
The win, which was the third of the year over McBee, improved the Lions to 23-8. They will take on the Bamberg-Ehrhardt Red Raiders in a best-of-three series next week for the state championship. The opening game in the series is set for Monday in Bamberg.
Rock Hill-area softball scores
Friday (First Round)
Fort Mill 2, Dorman 1
Byrnes 12, Clover 3
Catawba Ridge 7, Greenwood 2
Easley 3, York 1
Lewisville 11, Ridge Spring-Monetta 0
Monday (Second Round)
Fort Mill 8, Byrnes 7
Dorman 6, Clover 5
Catawba Ridge 5, Easley 1
York 4, Greeenwood 0
Lewisville 2, Dixie 0
Wednesday (Elimination Round)
York 5, Easley 3
Friday (Championship Round)
Fort Mill 10, Dorman 5
Catawba Ridge 7, York 2
Lewisville 10, McBee 9 (8)