It was a hard-fought game from start to finish, and could have gone either way, if a runner had been a step slower or a ball had been a few inches further to the right or left in the infield.
But in the end, the ball bounced the Liberty County Lady Bulldogs’ way on May 16 in Blountstown, and they emerged as the Class 1A regional champ, while the Lady Seahawks finished as runner-up, ranked sixth in the state with a final record of 19-9.
“We hit it where they could just get to it and make a play,” said coach Scott Collins. “Watching these regional tournaments you got to have a little luck to win against these teams.”
Neither team scored in the first inning, and after the Lady Seahawks couldn’t put a run across in the top of the second, it was Liberty County’s turn in the bottom of the inning.
Sophomore pitcher Sarah Ham looked to have the form that would enable her to strike out seven and allow just three walks during her six winnings of work.
With two outs, the Lady Bulldog hitter smacked a slow infield grounder, scooped up and thrown by seventh grade shortstop Addison Mallon to sophomore first baseman Michalyn O’Neal, but the umpire ruled she had beaten the ball to the baseman.
By the end of the inning two earned runs had crossed the plate and the Lady Bulldogs were ahead 2-0.
In the top of the third, Franklin County scored a run, after junior Taylor Mallon hit a long fly ball to right center that earned her a double.
She then stole third, and then freshman Averie Johnson hit a sharp liner to center that scored Mallon. Johnson and Mallon would each go 2 for 3 for the game, tallying four of the team’s seven hits.
Ham struck out the side in the bottom of the third, and retired all three of the batters she faced in the fourth on a grounder and two fly balls.
But in the bottom of the fifth. Lady Bulldog junior Caleigh Peddie blasted a home run at Sam Adkins Park, and Liberty County led 3-1.
It would stay that way until the top of the seventh, when the Lady Seahawks had their last chance to win.
Ham grounded out to the shortstop, but then sixth grade third baseman Shasta Butler reached first on an error. Taylor Mallon popped up to the third baseman.
With two outs, Johnson kept the Lady Seahawks’ hopes alive with a single to right that advanced Butler to second. Sophomore Ryan Brown then beat out a throw to first, and the bases were loaded with two outs and eighth grade second baseman Lilah Millender at bat.
She hit a hard grounder that looked destined for a hit, but the second baseman was playing near the bag, right where the ball went, and scooped it up, and the Lady Bulldogs had their win.
“I think our girls were very focused and played hard. They gave it all they had and there were a couple of bounces that just didn’t go our way,” said Collins. “Sarah threw another outstanding game and kept us within striking distance.”
In addition to Brown and Butler, freshman Lexi Webb also singled, and the team committed no errors.
“With so many returners, we have a good chance to be back in the same position next year,” said Collins.
A banquet is slated for Wednesday, May 31 at St. James Bay.