BROOKSVILLE – A seventh inning single from Bailey Story put two runs across home plate to lead the Keystone Heights softball team to a thrilling 3-2 region 2-5A championship win over Hernando …
BROOKSVILLE – A seventh inning single from Bailey Story put two runs across home plate to lead the Keystone Heights softball team to a thrilling 3-2 region 2-5A championship win over Hernando County High Friday night in Brooksville.
“I never gave up on them and knew something good was about to happen with Story up and Lexi (Northway) and (Ashleigh) Jennings on base,” said Keystone Heights coach Jessica Marquart, who herself played for a Final Four P.K.Yonge High team. “It’s an indescribable feeling to go to state as a coach. I’m so proud of this team and all the hard work they have put into this year.”
Story also blasted a run scoring double in the third inning to keep the Indians within a run in the final innings.
“She (Story) has always been clutch in big situations never a doubt in my mind she was going to do something great,” said Marquart.
The win puts the Lady Indians into the Final Four in Class 5A for a Saturday semifinal match against West Nassau with an 8:35 a.m. first pitch. Keystone Heights has two previous Final Four appearances; 1995 with Mike Horn-lost 13-5 to John Carroll in state semifinals (3A) and 2012 with Belinda Phillips-lost 1-0 to Florida High in state semifinals (4A).
“I think it’s great that we both get to experience this,” said Marquart. “I know they are a great team and will be an exciting game.”
Keystone Heights (20-10) advanced with region playoff wins over Eustis (5-3), Santa Fe (4-1) and Hernando County (3-2).
“It definitely has been nerve wracking but in a good way,” said Marquart. “The adrenaline and excitement is what makes this game great. I have so much confidence in this team and right now they believe so much in each other they are refuse to lose.”
West Nassau (22-6) advanced after wins over Suwannee (7-2), Baker County (8-2, region finalist in 2017) and Marianna (2-0).
In the other Final Four contest, Hardee (20-12, lost to Eustis in state semifinal in 2017) will face Coral Spring Charter (28-2, defending 5A champions over Eustis) at 9:50 a.m., also on Sat., May 18.
Megan Moncrief started on the mound for Keystone Heights, but was relieved by Daelynn Eatmon in the fourth. Eatmon dominated the Hernando batting lineup with six strikeouts in the final four innings to keep the game within a run for the opportunistic Indians’ offense.
Keystone Heights was able to get baserunners in place in the early innings with Story singling in the first inning at bats and Savannah Channell and Makayla Smith singling in the second, but no runs were scored.
Hernando struck first with a solo homer in the third that was followed by a double to rock Moncrief on the mound. A run scoring single scored the second Hernando run before Moncrief retrieved a grounder for the final out of the second.
Keystone Heights answered quickly with Ashleigh Jennings bunting on to first and Ashton Ludwig moving Jennings on her own bunt to set up Story’s two run shot to left field that scored Jennings. Two strikeouts ended the inning, but kept the Indians within striking distance.
“That first run that Story scored I believe kept us in it,” said Marquart. “I just told them to keep grinding and it’s not over yet.”
Eatmon entered the game in the fourth and immediately stymied the home crowd with three strike outs to end the inning after a walk and error put baserunners in play.
Eatmon added two strikeouts and a grounder in the sixth to keep Hernando at bay and also to create a tense seventh inning for the Indians.
“She did exactly what she needed to do keep them off the bases,” said Marquart.
In the seventh, Lexi Northway doubled to left field and Jennings reached with speed to first on a ground ball to set up Story’s gamewinner.