VERO BEACH — One day into its first trip to a state Final Four in softball, Liberty County is one day away from its first state championship.
The Bulldogs, 24-3, took control early and eliminated T. DeWitt Taylor 14-3 on Wednesday to advance to the finals this morning against defending state champion Lafayette. The Mayo school, 22-5, began the semifinal round by eliminating Chipley 5-1 earlier Wednesday morning.
The championship game is a rematch of the state finals in volleyball, won by Lafayette.
“It’s crazy, everything has worked out like it did in volleyball,” Bulldogs coach Jennifer Sewell said. “We beat Taylor (to get to the finals) and then played Lafayette.”
Sewell is hoping that having seven members of the softball team who also played volleyball will provide some added motivation Thursday.
“Lafayette is who we wanted,” she said. “I think it makes a huge difference, and they’ve been there” to a championship finals.
Chelsea Gowan had four hits and three runs batted in to pace a 17-hit Liberty County attack in the Bulldogs’ run-rule triumph in five innings.
“Everybody in the lineup had at least one base hit,” Sewell said. “Carly Sapp had a leadoff stand-up triple that was big. Our whole thing is that we wanted to jump on them early.”
Sapp added three hits and Ashley Sikes had two hits and two RBIs in support of winning pitcher Kayla Johnson. Liberty County pounced early with three runs in the first inning. A five-run third opened a cushion and the Bulldogs made sure of advancing with six more runs in the fourth inning.
Johnson struck out eight while posting her 17th win of the season. Sewell said she hadn’t yet determined her starting pitcher Thursday, as Sikes sports a 7-0 record.
Sewell said that the Bulldogs coaching staff was unable to scout Lafayette in the opening semifinal, as Liberty County was given that same time frame to prepare for its game with Taylor.
Lafayette spotted Chipley an early 1-0 lead before rallying to reach the finals four the fourth time in the past seven years. The Tigers, who lost four straight games early this season, finished 10-13 after a strong stretch run under first-year head coach Kami Fannin.
Chipley scored its lone run to forge a brief lead in the top of the first inning. Sarah Gilbert had a lead-off walk, was sacrificed to second by Kari Waldrip and moved to third on an infield single by Kara Bush.
Kendal Daniels followed with a sacrifice fly for her team-leading 22nnd RBI of the season, but that is all the production Chipley could muster against Hornets starter Lindsay O’Steen. The senior right-hander pitched a four-hitter with five strikeouts. Bush had two hits for Chipley.
Lafayette was led by freshman Lacey Swafford, who improved her .516 batting average with a triple, two singles and an RBI. Sydney Shows had two hits and knocked in a run and Kaleigh Law added two RBIs for the Hornets.
Gilbert was the losing pitcher, replaced by Mallory Dean in the third inning when Lafayette scored its final three runs for a four-run edge. Dean struck out six for the Tigers in 3-plus innings.
Thursday’s championship is scheduled for 10:05 a.m. CDT. It will feature two teams that played a number of larger classification schools during the regular season.
Liberty County did not lose to a Class 1A opponent, and Lafayette’s defeats came against Lake City (twice), Bradford (twice) and Suwannee, which all advanced to the Final Four in their respective qualifications.