CLERMONT - A fourth inning solo homer from Middleburg High senior Belle Mincey was the dramatic shift in a softball championship game threatening to be yet another extra innings pitching showdown. …
CLERMONT - A fourth inning solo homer from Middleburg High senior Belle Mincey was the dramatic shift in a softball championship game threatening to be yet another extra innings pitching showdown. Led by fireballer Mallory Forrester on the mound, for the Middleburg High Lady Broncos softball team that held off a seventh inning bases-loaded situation to win a 1-0 first state title for Middleburg High School Friday night in Clermont over South Lake High.
“We saw that she was coming high and inside on my hands,” said Mincey, whose shot deep into centerfield was the lone run in the Broncos 1-0 Class 5A championship win over South Lake High on Friday in Clermont. “I was focused on hitting it off the top or just under it to get out into the field and it flew.”
Mincey admitted to a premonition from the night before when asked if she was primed to be the Bronco hero.
“I woke up this morning thinking “I’m ready for a state championship’,” said Mincey, who had hit 10 doubles, a triple and one homer for the year before South Lake. “We only need one run with Mallory on the mound.”
Middleburg coach Ashley Houston, in just her fourth year at the helm, took her team from a region finals loss last year, to a midseason 11 win, 11 loss record this year, to winning nine games in a row and earning the first-ever team title in Middleburg High’s athletic history with a final 20-11 record.
“Mallory is such a competitor and I’m honored to be able to coach such as kid like her,” said Houston, noting Forrester’s 10 strikeouts on the night that followed back-to-back 19 strikeouts games in the Broncos region semifinal and championship game and a 10 strikeout effort the night before against Naples in a 1-0 state semifinal win. “We had been in this type of game all season, especially at the end during the playoffs, and I kept telling them to just breathe and get it done.”
In the Class 4A semifinal on Thursday against Naples (20-7), the Broncos, ironically, faced a no-hit pitching effort from Naples senior pitcher Macy Miles, a commit to University of Central Florida, but took a 1-0 lead in one of the more daring baserunning moves called by Houston.
“Whatever works,” said Houston.
Against Naples, in the third inning, Houston got a walk to Paige Amato, a sacrifice bunt from Madison Wesley that put Amato at second base and a groundout from Maisy Campbell to put Amato at third. Miles hit Carly Johnson to put runners at first and third. Johnson, with Amato going full sprint toward home plate, induced a throw from Naples catcher Macienzie Leiti toward second base as Johnson apparently “fell” to create time for Amato to cross home plate before Naples could tag Johnson out to negate the run. The tag was late and Middleburg was up 1-0.
Brilliant. From there, Forrester finished off Naples with three strikeouts on the ensuing inning to pick up another 10K effort for the win.
“My arm was a little tired for the final game, but I took care of it and was ready to go,” said Forrester, who finished with 271 strikeouts for her outstanding senior campaign. Forrester will be pitching next year at Flagler College.
With the South Lake Golden Eagles, also at 19-11 coming into the championship game, the two teams seemed evenly matched with top-notch pitching leading the defenses. South Lake pitcher Alanna O’Brien, who allowed just one hit (a
biggie!), opened with three fly balls while Forrester gave up a single, but made a heads up snag of a bunt fly ball in front of the mound and a second heads up play off a sharp line drive to her glove in the third with Forrester again answering with another three strikeout inning.
Middleburg kept hitting O’Brien, but a diving snag by left fielder Jordyn Lillis stole an extra bases hit possibility from Amato and Wesley grounded out to first base.
With South Lake located just a dozen miles from the Clermont softball complex, the home field advantage was very loudly something the Broncos would need to address during the contest.
For Forrester, Mincey’s homer seemed to do that job after Forrester got through the first two innings with just two strikeouts and two baserunners in play that got baserunners left; one on a baserunning violation that eliminated one South Lake potential score in the first and a third strikeout after a walk left another baserunner stranded.
After that, Forrester was delivering the heat with blistering results; three whiffs in the third and two whiffs in the fourth.
“Belle’s homer definitely made a really big difference in the game,” said Forrester. “It definitely pumped us all up and kind of shut up the other team.”
After the Mincey strike, Forrester and her defense took over to defend the slim lead with South Lake’s bats attempting to get out of the infield, but sterling plays from third baseman Kaelyn Hagan on a sharp grounder just inside the third base line and a key outfield fly trackdown from Madison Wesley in the seventh inning.
In the fourth and fifth innings, South Lake again threatened to topple the Broncos’ 1-0 lead, with single and sacrifice bunt leaving two baserunners after two Forrester strikeouts in the fourth and a double and sacrifice putting the tying run at third, but Forrester again squashed the advance with two strikeouts.
In the sixth, South Lake again doubled, this time deep to the left field corner but Forrester got a fly ball to Campbell at shortstop.
With a seemingly slight momentum shift leaning toward South Lake after two fly balls and a strikeout in the Broncos’ seventh inning, Forrester was to be tested in South Lake’s final at bats.
In that critical seventh inning, with Forrester opening with her 10th strikeout and Wesley making her grab, Forrester blinked a bit and allowed a walk and single on base with Forrester hitting the third South Lake batter to load the bases.
“Coach came out to the mound and said something funny to us to kind of relieve the stressful situation,” said Forrester. “We had been there before and she just got our minds right.”
Forrester answered with two blistering fastballs that batter Destiny Johns watched sail by her.
“That final pitch, I wanted her to swing to end it,” said Forrester. “She swung.”
Johns made contact, but the ball sailed nearly straight up and found the glove of shortstop Maisy Campbell as the Broncos’ Stampede fan section erupted.
“Just a routine fly ball,” said Campbell.
A routine fly ball, nonetheless, but one that created a chaotic chase and hug frenzy on the field for Houston and her players.
After a strong region run last year and a state title this year, Dynasty?
“We have a lot of work to do before that,” said Houston.
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