VERO BEACH - Chiefland, winners of three straight Class 1A softball titles, looked like its run of state championships was coming to an end, trailing Wewahitchka 1-0 going into the bottom of the seventh in Wednesday’s state semifinals.
Union County, ranked No. 1 pretty much all season, looked like its drive to get to its first state final was coming to an end, trailing Chipley 3-1 going into the bottom of the seventh.
In their last at-bats, both Chiefland and Union County made them count at Historic Dodgertown.
The Indians loaded the bases in the seventh with sophomore Macie Thomas delivering a two-run single down the left field line to score Emily Hallman and Lauren Parker for a 2-1 win and a spot in their fourth straight state final.
The Tigers got an RBI single from freshman Kamaya Cohen, who scored the winning run on Devin Lewis’s two-run shot at shortstop, lifting Union County to a 4-3 win.
Chiefland (21-6) will take on Union County (22-2) Thursday at 1:35 p.m. The Indians are looking to become only the fourth team in FHSAA history and first rural school to win four straight state titles.
Only the Tigers, who they lost to twice during the regular season, stand in their way.
“It has been said in the newspaper earlier, by one of the coaches that played us, don’t ever count Chiefland out and if you let them have the ballgame they will take it,” said a happy Indians coach Wayne Weatherford. “You don’t count Chiefland out and I think these girls proved it.
“They are relentless, they don’t let up. They know when they got to come through. I sure didn’t like to wait as long as we did. But they all did a great job and I’m really proud of them.”
For nearly five innings, Wewahitchka junior pitcher Brianna Bailey was unhittable, retiring the first 14 Chiefland batters before Samantha Rolfe got the team’s first hit with two outs in the fifth.
The Gators (20-8-1) took a 1-0 lead in the third with Savannah Lister reaching base on a Chiefland outfield error, moving to second base on a sacrifice bunt and ultimately scoring on Gracie Price’s RBI single.
That lead stood, and when Chiefland went out in order in the bottom of the sixth, the Indians were down to final three outs.
Hallman opened the bottom of the seventh with a single to left, and Parker got on board after being hit by a pitch. Takiya London’s single loaded the bases, setting up Thomas’ game-winning hit.
“I knew I needed to stay calm,” Thomas said. “I have been working hard all season. I knew it was my time to really show up and that is what I did.
“We really kept each other up. Everyone knew we could do it.”
Chiefland sophomore pitcher Kensley Durrance had her second straight stellar game, giving up an unearned run and keeping the Indians in it by throwing a three-hitter, retiring the last 13 Wewahitchka batters.
“I had to stay headstrong the whole game,” Durrance said. “Never giving up. You have to have confidence in your defense and I definitely do.
“I have seen this team do amazing things. Last year we went 13 innings in the state semifinals (a 12-6 win over Franklin County) and I saw them come back. I knew they could do it. I prayed for them to have strength to do it.”
Bailey gave up just four hits, three in the seventh, with nine strikeouts.
Hallman, a Jacksonville signee who started the rally in the seventh, had confidence her teammates would get it done.
“I told myself this is it, I am not going to let this be my last at-bat,” she said. “As long as I do my job, I can trust my teammates to do their job.
“I knew as long as we stay on our game mentally and physically we could do it. You can never doubt yourself, when you doubt yourself you have already beaten yourself. You have to have confidence and belief that you can do it.”
Ninety minutes after the Indians amazing rally, Union County had its own.
Down 3-1 since the first inning, Union, the top-hitting team coming in, struggled to get a solid hit off Chipley senior pitcher Grace Gilbert.
Union pulled starter Lexi Androlevich in the first after giving up back-to-back doubles and hitting the next three batters, replacing her with Brooke Waters.
All Waters did was give up just one hit in 6.1 innings of relief with three strikeouts.
Macey Fulgham opened the bottom of the seventh with a bunt single and, like Chiefland, the second batter, Teala Howard, was hit by a pitch, putting two on with no outs. While Fulgham was forced out at third base on Kensley Hamilton’s grounder, Union County still had two runners on base with one out.
Cohen, a UF commit, singled in Howard, closing the Chipley gap to 3-2. Both Hamilton and Cohen stole a base, moving up to third and second for Lewis. The Stetson signee launched a hard hit ball right at Chipley’s shortstop and the ball bounced off her into the outfield as Hamilton and Cohen scored for the win.
“We just love one another,” said Union County coach Andrew Strickland. “We have been together for three years now. We have fought through adversity.
“You don’t count us out. I had no doubt we were going to figure it out. You don’t keep a .398 hitting team hitless the whole time. We kept fighting, it was best on best there, that ball (by Lewis) was hit very hard.”
Lewis said Gilbert had been an effective pitcher by throwing at Union batters’ hands and jamming them.
“I just close my eyes and swung,” Lewis said. “It is super exciting.
“We are all looking forward to it (state final against Chiefland). We need to do the best we can to win the ballgame.”
Union won both regular season games, 11-1 and 10-6.