Rebels drop heartbreaker in Upper State

·5 min read


JOHNSTON — Strom Thurmond had momentum despite a deficit in Friday's drizzly Class AA Upper State softball opener against Gray Collegiate.

The visiting War Eagles had plated a run in the top of the ninth inning, which began with a runner on second base due to the international tiebreaker rule. A sacrifice bunt moved Emily Gunter to third base, and a groundout plated her.

Emmy McKie struck out the next batter she faced, her eighth strikeout of the night, and the Rebels had reason to be excited heading to the home half of the ninth.

One spectacular defensive play changed all of that.

Addyson Harrison's bunt attempt was caught in front of third base by Madoxx Long, who fired a rope to second base. Center fielder Na'Veah Matthews came up to cover the bag, completing the double play and suddenly leaving the Rebels with nobody on and two outs.

Gray Collegiate's Taylor Corley got Lauren Strock to ground out to shortstop, dealing the Rebels a painful loss and sending them to an elimination game with their season on the line.

"That team right there, everybody in the state's already predicted is going to win it easily," Strom Thurmond coach Drake Dunlap said of Gray Collegiate. "If we proved anything, it's we can play with anybody. I told them in the district championship we had to go to Ninety Six and beat them twice, and we've just got to go and do it again."

The Rebels (23-4) will hit the road Monday to face Chesnee, which lost to Mid-Carolina on Friday in the other Upper State matchup.

For eight innings both teams had an answer for whatever their opponent could produce. Gray Collegiate scored in the top of the first inning for a 1-0 lead, then didn't cross home plate again until the eighth.

Strom Thurmond tied it in the bottom of the fifth when Halynn Smith, who had three hits in the game, drove in Savannah Agner with a two-out single. Sarah Beth McKie was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Olivia Grant ripped a ball down the third-base line that would have driven in at least two runs — instead, Long speared it to end the threat.

It was the second inning in a row the Rebels left multiple base runners in scoring position — they had runners on second and third with one out in the fourth, but Corley got out of the jam unscathed.

"We have the same offensive game plan every game. Our recipe for winning is throw strikes and hit the ball," Dunlap said. "We didn't get quite enough hits tonight, but we got them when we needed them until the end."

Emmy McKie shut down the War Eagles in the sixth and seventh inning, stranding potential go-ahead runs in scoring position in each, and the game went to extra innings.

Gray Collegiate re-took the lead in the top of the eighth after a two-out triple by Matthews on a ball that took a funny hop once it hit the outfield grass and split the Rebels that were chasing after it. Long then drove her home with a single for a 2-1 lead.

Smith led off the bottom of the eighth with a single after fouling off several two-strike pitches to get one she could put in play. She moved to second when Lawsyn Lowe was hit by a pitch with two outs, and she was sent home when Kinley French singled to center.

Matthews charged on the ball to try to throw out Smith at the plate, but her throw sailed long and allowed Lowe and French to get into scoring position.

She was given an opportunity to atone for that error in the next at-bat, and she saved the game for her team in the process. Agner torched a ball to center field that looked like a certain game-winner, only for Matthews to make a leaping catch to send it to the ninth.

Emmy McKie finished the game allowing eight hits, Matthews' triple the only extra-base knock, while striking out eight and walking only one.

"I told her in the huddle that's the best I've ever seen her pitch, especially with the elements," Dunlap said. "Raining, being able to get all of her pitches across for a strike. Quote-unquote, No. 1 team in the state, and you take away the international rule at the end and she gave up two runs."

The Rebels now must win to extend their season, which is exactly what they did just to reach this point. A loss to Ninety Six in district play meant the Rebels had to go on the road needing to win twice against the same Ninety Six team that had beaten them three times this season. They fought back with 8-6 and 14-9 victories to reach Upper State, and now they'll need to make another stand Monday.

"We have a lot of resilience. They believe in each other. This is really a special group," Dunlap said. "We're upset. We made a few errors. In Upper State, you can't make those mistakes. But they still believe in each other. I don't think we have any quit in us, and we're going to keep fighting."

Class A

Lewisville 11, Wagener-Salley 1 (5 innings)

Wagener-Salley suffered a five-inning loss to Lewisville on Friday in the Class A Upper State softball opener.

The District 4 champion War Eagles (16-7) will be on the road Monday to play an elimination game against Dixie, which lost 8-7 to McBee.

Lewisville, the defending Upper State champion, will visit McBee on Monday.