SALEM, Va. — When it comes to winning state championships, Eastside’s softball team has been there and done that.
The Lady Spartans won't be doing it this year.
Uncharacteristic defensive lapses and a couple of wild pitches proved Eastside’s undoing against Madison County, which took a 4-0 win in Saturday’s VHSL Group A, Division 1 semifinal game at the Moyer Softball Complex.
“They got some lucky breaks and I felt we had our backs against the wall. We sort of fell apart in the first inning,” said Lady Spartans coach Suzi Atwood, who led Eastside to the Division 2 state title in 2012. “They have a really good team and they played good. When we needed a hit, we just couldn’t come up with a lucky hit. They came up with the timely hit when they needed it.”
The Lady Mountaineers (24-4) advance to Sunday’s championship game to face Honaker, a 2-1 winner over East Rockingham in Saturday’s earlier semifinal.
Bad luck dogged Spartans ace Lindsay Dean (19-4) almost from the outset. Two easy outs into the first inning, Dean let Kaitlin Aylor on with a walk. Rival pitcher Lauren Seale’s following popup was dropped by second baseman Keely Atwood, whose hurried attempt to throw out the lead runner at third base flew wide. Aylor scored and Seale made it to third, scoring moments later on Dean’s wild pitch.
“It wasn’t what we wanted. If you can’t score, you can’t win, I guess,” said Dean, who nevertheless struck out eight.
Madison County added another unearned run with two outs in the third inning when Sam Atwell scored after Seale rapped into an error by first baseman Madison Powers.
Cagney Shiflett led off the fourth with a double to left, was bunted to third by Raegan Clatterbagh’s sacrifice and scored on Dean’s second wild pitch of the contest.
“We’ve been here. We’ve done this. We needed to win it and that’s what we did today,” said Lady Mountaineers coach Jessee Yowell, whose team previously lost in two consecutive state semifinal appearances.
Seale (22-4) picked up the shutout, striking out seven over seven innings. She held the powerful Dean hitless in three plate appearances, walking her once.
“We knew they were a good hitting team, so we just had to throw around them and see what they would swing at. They were going for the high ball today so that’s what I was pitching,” said Seale, a veteran of last year’s Division 1 semifinals.
Madison County’s ace scattered five hits. Bucking the trend was Eastside shortstop Samantha Cole, who went 2-for-4 with a double. She went down swinging, Aylor putting a third-out glove on Cole’s hot liner over third that any other day might’ve slipped past.
“We started out with errors and you can’t win with errors. Once you dig a hole that deep, it’s hard to come out. They outplayed us and that’s the way it happens sometimes,” Cole said. “I was hoping not to have the last out. As a senior, you don’t want that to happen.”
In the opening semifinal game, Cassie Baker’s clutch single with two outs in the top of the seventh inning plated Leah Elswick to lift the Lady Tigers to unprecedented state tournament heights. The game had been tied at 1 since the first frame.
The lead in her pocket, Honaker ace Emily Kendrick (17-3) protected it to send her program to its first-ever state championship appearance.
“I wish they’d do it earlier, but it’s the fashion for them to do it at the end with a seventh inning rally,” said Lady Tigers coach Amy Davidson, whose pants were still tucked into her lucky cowboy boots after the game. “That’s one thing about these girls. They never give up.
“East Rockingham has a great team,” she added “That’s the way it should be when you come to the state semifinals.”