MIDDLEBURG – Both softball coaches; Ridgeview High’s Casey Thompson and Middleburg High’s Ashley Houston, both kind of thought their teams would be the final two standing come district …
MIDDLEBURG – Both softball coaches; Ridgeview High’s Casey Thompson and Middleburg High’s Ashley Houston, both kind of thought their teams would be the final two standing come district championship night in Clay County and the prophecy was fulfilled with grandeur.
Back at Middleburg High, with a pitching mano-v-mano happening between Bronco senior Mallory Forrester and Ridgeview freshman Lilly, not Libby as stated before with apologies, Bennett, plus some sterling defensive play on both sides, the clash of the titans wound up just a 1-0 barnburner that, despite the low score, did not lack in high drama and intensity. Do not read end of story yet.
“Oh yeah, I knew it would come down to one pitch, one play here and there,” said Houston, who dropped from a Class 5A region finalist last year to join Ridgeview, twice a 4A Final Four finisher, in the district 3-5A ranks in 2022. “We knew any time Mallory was on the mound, we were going to have a good shot. She did her job. She deserves it.”
Forrester, heading to Flagler College in the fall, whipped up another double digit outing with 15 strikeouts on the night with Bennett on the Panther mound countering with seven strikeouts in one of her best outings of the season.
“She was on and we made one costly fielding play and that was the game,” said Thompson, referring to Forrester’s pitching. “We had baserunners in scoring position a couple of times, but they made the championship plays. Now, we have to drive six hours to Gulf Breeze and win.”
The game looked to be in the Broncos court early with Alyssa Prather smashing a run scoring double with Kaelyn Hagan on base off a game-opening single. Remember the Kaelyn Hagan name for future reference.
That was it for the scoring obviously, but not for lack of trying as Ridgeview freshman shortstop Paetyn Kirk continued her strong six-hole play with a scoop and toss to wingman second baseman Ky Torrence grinding out an out after a Belle Mincey single. Kirk would later snuff out a second basesteal attempt with catcher Haley McCrea lasering a strike to net Madison Wesley after she singled.
“I can’t say much negative about our game, we made some great plays on defense,” said Thompson, reminding that his team is chock full of underclassmen.
In Ridgeview’s final at-bat, with anticipation of a much-expected Panther comeback swing, Forrester locked down two strikeouts and had McCrae up for a final shot at a run.
“We had our batting lineup poised to make a run at them, but that pitcher was hitting her spots,” said Thompson.
McCrae, the leader of the Panther’s “Clutch Much” comeback aura, hit a short, steep foul ball that was going to be excruciatingly close to the front fence of the Ridgeview dugout and, as the Ridgeview team watched, Hagan deftly inserted her body about as close to the fence without collision to snag the ball and end the game.
In the Class 5A championship bracket, Middleburg (15-11, lost 8-5 in 5A region finals to Pace High 2021), the second seed behind Tallahassee Lincoln (15-80, will host seven-seed Ocala Vanguard (16-9) on Thurs., May 12. Ridgeview, the fifth seed at 14-6, will travel to Gulf Breeze (15-11, 5A region semifinals) also on Thurs., May 12. Lincoln will host eight-seed Ponte Vedra (13-12), whom Middleburg beat with a late-inning defensive stand, 6-4, in their region opener.
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