By ANTHONY STEVENS
for the Daily Telegraph
SALEM, Va. —
With one blast off the bat of Emily Kendrick, the Honaker Lady Tigers became state champions.
In the Group A, Division 1 title game Honaker came from behind to defeat Madison County 3-1 and claim the state championship at Moyer Sports Complex on Sunday morning.
“I’ve been working on this for 14 years and this is just overwhelming,” Honaker senior left fielder Allie Baker said. “This was my last game and I’m going out with a state ring. It’s just great that all the work has paid off.”
It didn’t look like it would happen for the Lady Tigers.
In the top of the sixth the Mountaineers broke a scoreless tie. With two outs, Lauren Seale tripled, ripping a shot that hit the line in right field. Seale raced into third.
When the relay throw from second baseman Leah Elswick got by third baseman Alex Bartley, Seale was able to scamper home with an unearned run.
It appeared one might be enough with Seale in the circle. The Madison County pitcher, the Region B pitcher of the year, had been dominant. She had thrown 17 consecutive scoreless innings coming into the game and had brought that total up to 22 innings.
Seale was perfect through four innings. She retired the first 14 batters she faced before a bloop hit by Caitlin Cook that landed in the infield between the shortstop and second baseman.
Hayley Brown then hit a deep drive that turned around left fielder Sam Atwell, who nevertheless made the catch just shy of the fence to end the inning.
But Honaker (21-3) pounced in the sixth. Baker started the inning with a single to right.
“I had struck out my first at-bat,” said Baker. “I knew I had to get a hit. There was a lot of pressure, we were down one and I knew I had to get on. But I felt confident and knew we could do it.”
With Baker at first, Seale was able to strike out Meghan Hess for the first out. Elswick followed with a single up the middle to put runners at first and second.
Cassie Baker then tried to move them over but popped up to the catcher for the second out, bringing Kendrick to the plate.
Kendrick fouled off the first pitch from Seale. The next two pitches were balls. The next pitch was a strike to even the count at 2-2. Kendrick then fouled off the next three pitches to stay alive.
“I was almost at home already on one of those foul balls, it made me sick to my stomach,” remarked Allie Baker. “On the homer, I just saw she hit the ball, I didn’t know where it was at and I just ran for my life.”
Kendrick blasted the final pitch she saw over the left field fence, barely out of the reach of the Mountaineers’ Atwell, who had already made two tremendous catches in the game.
“This is just the best feeling ever,” stated Kendrick. “I had the attitude that I was going to hit the ball. Honestly I thought the girl had caught the ball. Then everyone was just screaming and hollering and I knew it had (gone) over!”
Madison County (24-5) didn’t get a hit in the final inning but the Mountaineers made it interesting.
After a fly out, an error and a walk brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh. Kendrick then struck out pinch-hitter Megan Shifflett for the second out. Lead-off hitter Atwell then grounded to Alex Bartley at third and she threw a strike to Cook at first for the final out.
Kendrick finished the season with an 18-2 pitching record.
“I told the girls before the bottom of the sixth, this is what we came up here for,” Honaker coach Amy Davidson said. “We’ve played 24 games and these girls have never quit. When these girls get their backs against the wall, they come out strong.”
It’s the second state softball title in the history of Honaker High School. The first one came in 1988, the next one 25 years later.
At Moyer Sports Complex
Madison Co. 000 001 0 — 1 3 0
Honaker 000 003 x — 3 4 4
Seale and Breeden. Kendrick and Hughes. WP — Kendrick (18-2). LP — Seale. HR — Honaker, Kendrick, 6th, 2 on.