VERO BEACH – The Final Four softball week in Vero Beach featured a unique sidebar in that Oakleaf High softball coach Christina Thompson, herself a state champion player for Clay High and also a coach of a state champion for the 2017 Lady Knights, would be joined in her third Final Four by her brother Casey Thompson, he a first year coach of the Ridgeview High Panthers softball team, a team who endured the tragic death of an endearing head coach that fueled an epic turnaround for the program that saw Thompson, in his first season, orchestrate a stunning playoff ride to the Final Four.
Oakleaf, with championship pedigree in their dugout, led by senior third baseman Baylee Goddard and senior pitcher Madisyn Davis, had survived some emotional bumps and bruises through a season that saw a handful of top-tier graduates while Ridgeview, led by a feisty band of bandits that, led by senior Hannah Foster at third base and sophomore pitcher Brittany Michael, defied the aura of a program that overcame years of obscurity with a superb 2018 season under Roger Harvey.
In the final week of their respective seasons, it was with dramatic fashion that both coaches saw their teams fight to the bitter end only to have the bounce of the ball defy the push to a state championship berth.
In the first semifinal of the Class 6A Final Four against another upstart program, Sebring High, Ridgeview, by inning three, stormed to a quick 3-0 lead behind crafty baserunning from Sarah Anderson and a three ball/two strike single from Foster that scored two runs in the second and a solo homer from Alyssa Adams in the third to jolt the Sebring High dugout.
Sebring retaliated with a one run double in the fourth and three singles in the sixth to tie the game at 3-3.
Teams locked up in the seventh to force extra innings with the Panthes striking first in the top of the eighth with Raven Little’s sacrifice fly scoring Ashlyn Halford for a 4-3 lead.
On the mound, Michael had bad luck with the leadoff batter getting hit with a sacrifice fly tying the game and a two run homer; with the ball topping the fence, ending the game.
Sebring would win the Class 6A title with a 3-1 win over Crystal River.
For Oakleaf, facing off with unbeaten and nationally ranked Winter Springs (29-0), the first pitch of Davis got launched by Winter Springs’ top player, Kaley Mudge, a commit to Florida State University, to put the Knights on their heels. Davis faced down a bases loaded situation with two strikeouts to extinguish a possible first inning atomic bomb.
Winter Springs put more heat on Davis in the second with a walk to Mudge and a single that got to home plate off a two run double and a crash landing at home plate that took officials some time to decide on the scoring run, a 3-0 lead.
Goddard got Oakleaf’s first hit of the game in the fourth that, with a steal, put her at second base for the Lady Knights first baserunner in scoring position, but it was not to be with a flyball out to Jaycie Brookshire and a groundout to Kaley Lambrecht.
In the fourth, a misplayed grounder throw from Lambrecht to Goddard at third base put the game at 4-0.
In the fifth, Oakleaf relief pitcher Cambria Arturo entered with one out and, with a snag by second baseman Jazmine Lamug, finished off the inning.
In the top of the sixth, Oakleaf hunkered up for a final push to the finish with Katie Kistler singling and stealing and Goddard again getting on base with an error at the fence on a fly ball scoring the game 4-1. Brookshire would blast a fly ball also deep to left field to score Goddard to go 4-2 with Lambrecht crushing a double to centerfield a possible storybook finish.
Next up, Aspen Windesheim socks a single to centerfield to score Lambrecht, 4-3.
Arturo rifled through the meat of the Winter Springs lineup; 1-2-3-4, with two groundouts, a walk and a flyball.
With two outs from J.J. Serrano and Lamug creating even more anxiety, Kistler struck a three balls, two strike pitch to left field and Jaeda McFarland walked to set up Goddard again who delivered an RBI single to score Kistler and tie the game at 4-4.
Brookshire added to the score with a double to push McFarland and Goddard in for a 6-4 lead.
A quick single to right field started a series of misplays that turned up the heat for Oakleaf to stave off the unbeaten Winter Springs lineup as a collision at first base between Lamug and hitter Destiny Colgate knocked Brookshire’s toss loose. Aspensheim, from right field, alertly stopped Winter Springs’ baserunner Taylor Thomas at third base.
From there, Arturo calmly struck out the next batter before a swift grounder to Goddard went under Goddard and to Lambrecht deep at shortstop, who in the dirt in front of Brookshire; scoring one run, 6-5.
Lamug survived an awkward pop up to put the game within an out, but a double and single got answered with a single to tie the game at 6-6.
Winter Springs got two on base before a sharp line drive got past Lambrecht diving to score the gamewinner, 7-6.
Winter Springs would win the 8A title over Lakewood Ranch (30-0), 3-0.