By Thomas Grant Jr.
Playing for the first-ever Class 2A softball championship seemed like a long shot a week ago for Mid-Carolina.
As of press time, the Lady Rebels were a victory away from the Class 2A state title.
It all started May 15 following a 5-0 loss to defending champion Gray Collegiate Academy.
The Lady Rebels needed to win three straight games to claim the Upper State title.
The road through the loser’s bracket began with a 3-1 victory over Strom Thurmond. This set up a rematch with a War Eagles’ team which entered the Upper State final winners of 13 straight games.
Needing to win twice, the Lady Rebels rode the heroics on the mound and at the plate of senior Amber Barnes to upset the Lady War Eagles on May 19 at Reco Field. She struck out a combined 22 batters in nine total innings in earning victories in both games.
“Just the resiliency of these kids,” Mid-Carolina head coach Joey Long said. “They fought, they scratched, they battled. We came in and had to beat Gray twice. What an unbelievable team they have and I’m just ecstatic for our kids.”
Brandi Riddle started Game 1 for Mid-Carolina and fell into a 2-0 hole in the bottom of the first inning. Na’veah Matthews singled home a run and scored on a passed ball.
In the top of the third inning, Hughes connected on her only hit of the Upper State finals. With Clyde Livingston on first, he belted the pitch by Gray Collegiate’s Tayler Corley over the rightfield fence to tie the game.
“It just changed the momentum,” Long said. “This team never quit. They kept fighting. They kept battling.”
The Lady War Eagles reclaimed the lead in the bottom half of the inning on Matthews’ RBI triple. They added a run on an M.J. Stradinger sacrifice fly in the fourth and, after retiring Mid-Carolina in order in the fifth, were six outs away from a second straight title game appearance.
Things unraveled for Gray Collegiate in the sixth inning. Corley hit Sarah Bryant with one out, then back-to-back infield errors loaded the bases.
Culler singled to centerfield to tie the game and move Bailey Stewart to second. She then scored on Savannah Moore’s single to put the Lady Rebels ahead.
After entering the game in the fifth and striking out the Lady War Eagles in order, Hughes maintained the lead. She allowed two hits and five of her final six outs came courtesy of strikeouts to close out the 5-4 victory.
“She’s been our best all year,” Long said. “I wanted her to have the ball.”
Hughes stayed on the mound for Game Two. She remained dominant in recording seven of her 14 strikeouts in the first four innings.
This time, Mid-Carolina jumped ahead as Bowers scored on a double play to make it 1-0. The Lady Rebels loaded the bases with three walks and Bryant made it 4-0 with a bases-clearing single.
One run scored on Bryant’s hit while two others came across on a throwing error.
Madoxx Long put Gray Collegiate on the board with a solo home run in the sixth. Back-to-back doubles by Corley and Madison Knapper added another run to make it 4-2.
Hughes finished the game by retiring five of the final six batters faced and Matthews’ flyout ended the Lady War Eagles’ title reign.
“Very happy, very happy,” Hughes said. “We fought, came back both games. Worked on it really well. Progress. Just happy.”
Mid-Carolina carried over its momentum to Game 1 at home against Chesterfield. Trailing 1-0, the Lady Rebels scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth for a 4-1 lead.
Cutler added a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth and Mid-Carolina held off a late rally for the 5-3 win. It was another victory for Hughes, who struck out sixth in seven innings.
Game 2 was Wednesday at Chesterfield with a deciding game Friday at a neutral site.
Chapin season ends
The Lady Eagles were in a similar position as Mid-Carolina in Class 5A. They needed to win three straight games as well to win the Lower State.
Chapin earned a spot in the final with a 3-2 win in eight innings over St. James at home on May 17.
Alyssa Brulport’s RBI walk-off single with the bases loaded was the difference. Maddie McMillian accounted for two runs scored by the Lady Eagles.
This set up a rematch at Summerville for the Lower State title. The Lady Green Wave shut out the Lady Eagles 2-0 in the first meeting and jumped out to a 6-0 lead after five innings.
After Savannah Stockwell put Chapin on the board by scoring on a wild pitch, Summerville added three more runs. An RBI sacrifice fly by Stockwell closed out the scoring in the 9-2 season-ending loss.
(Photo by Thomas Grant Jr.)
Mid-Carolina players celebrate with Amber Hughes at homeplate following her 2-run homer in Game 1 against Gray Collegiate Academy.