By Randy Lefko
BARTRAM TRAIL – Middleburg High softball got a blast from Olivia Wilbur in the first inning that scored two runs and pushed the Lady Broncos to a quick 3-0 lead …
By Randy Lefko
BARTRAM TRAIL – Middleburg High softball got a blast from Olivia Wilbur in the first inning that scored two runs and pushed the Lady Broncos to a quick 3-0 lead on the 10th-ranked Bartram Trail High Lady Bears, then showed off stingy defense to win 3-2 in their region 1-7A quarterfinal playoff game in front of a stunned Bartram Trail High fan section.
“Just look at the banners around this field and you know they won’t quit,” said Middleburg first-year coach Ashley Houston, who put the Lady Broncos into the playoffs for the first time since 2010 with a district tournament week that included a quasi-upset of 17th-ranked Columbia in the semifinal then an excruciating 1-0 ninth inning loss to 6th-ranked Gainesville in the championship game. “We just keep playing tough defense and make the other team play their best. That’s all I can ask.”
The 30th-ranked in Maxpreps polls Broncos (10-12) now must faceoff with 8th-ranked Creekside (21-4) in their Tues., May 14 region semifinal to see if the run goes deeper for Houston. Creekside defeated Gainesville 2-1 in their region quartefinal. Tate (19-7) and Niceville (19-6) will play in the opposite region semifinal.
In 2018, Gainesville, the defending district champion, lost in the region final to Niceville while Creekside lost to Bartram Trail in the region quarterfinals. Columbia has been in the region playoffs 13 times since 1995 with a Class 6A title in 2013. Creekside has been a region playoff team since 2012 with a Class 5A runnerup finish in 2013. Gainesville is a 2016 Class 7A champion with seven playoff appearances since 2000.
Middleburg was last in the playoffs in 2013 with region semifinals as deep as the Broncos advanced in 10 appearances since 1997.
“I was talking with the kids and told them if games were just five innings, we would be unbeatable,” said Houston. “All year, we’ve played everyone tough for five innings. One of our mottos lately has been to finish, just finish. The last half of practices, we’ve been pushing through the last part of practice to go hard.”
In the Broncos’ first inning opening salvo, Courtney Bernhard singled after a groundout to Emily Stewart to put one baserunner in play. Bernhard got caught at second base on a fielder’s choice grounder to Jaden Marsh to put Middleburg back at first base.
From there, Felicity Muncy smashed a flyball to centerfield that got caught in the still-bright sun to pass Bartram Trail centerfielder Meagan O’Brien to score Marsh and immediately put the Bears dugout on notice that things may get dicey for the perennial powerhouse.
Kiersten Sanchez would draw a walk from the now-shaken Nicole Masanko, the Bears pitcher, as Bears’ coach Jen Harmon tried to squelch the Broncos’ momentum.
“We wanted to get on the scoreboard quickly then let the defense hold them,” said Houston. “We had some outstanding double plays that really hurt their offense.”
Adding to the fire, Broncos’ batter Olivia Wilbur fired up a deep right field double that pushed in the two Broncos’ baserunners and put Middleburg up 3-0 amidst a tense feeling of upset. Carley Romanesk struck out to end the inning.
Now knowing she would be facing the vaunted Bartram Trail batting lineup, Bronco pitcher Kaylee Crickmore, who had been victimized by a questionable umpire call in the Broncos’ 1-0 district final loss to Gainesville, entered on the mound and threw a walk to the first Bartram Trail batter, O’Brien as the Bears fans sensed a bit of get-back for the first inning.
“When they scored, I kind of got mad because they were talking big out of the dugout,” said Crickmore. “I wanted to just quiet them.”
A sacrifice bunt moved O’Brien to third after a steal at second and set up Bartram Trail to score off a flyball that floated just beyond Muncy at second base and had enough depth to get O’Brien across home plate.
Crickmore induced a grounder to leave the inning unscathed.
Both teams throttled up the defense with the Broncos nailing a nifty double play grounder off a hard line drive to third baseman Haleigh Wright who alertly tossed back to first base to nail the second out ending the second inning.
With both teams sending just three batters each to the box in the next two at-bats, Bartram Trail got an opportunity off a brilliant diving stab by Muncy on a deep grounder over second base that elicited no throw and a passed ball to set up a baserunner at second base.
“We got some big pitches and big plays against their best hitters,” said Houston. “We knew we had to stay focused at the end because it was just one run to keep going.”
The dusk sun again played havoc as Bronco centerfielder Emily Stewart this time misplayed a flyball that got Bartram Trail’s second run in and put the Bears in play with a baserunner at second base.
In the fourth, Bartram Trail had runners on first and third, but Crickmore got a flyout to squelch the threat.
In the top of the fifth, a superb bunt by Stewart moved Wright to second base, but a strikeout and flyout left Wright standing.
In the top of the sixth, Wilbur came inches from popping a homer over the left field fence at 200 feet.
“We were making plays and getting some bounces,” said Houston. “If that would have went over, that would have been one of the biggest hits of the season.”
Bartram Trail got stung with a second double play as Romanesck flagged down a short fly ball just behind first base then made a cannon throw to Wright at third that nailed Bartram Trail’s Mackenzie Williams who got on base from an error.