April 26, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
HAMILTON -- A bloop proved to be just the spark the Hamilton High School fast-pitch softball team needed.
Katie Beth Dahlem''s bloop single paved the way for key hits by Miranda McCormick and Kelle West in the bottom of the sixth inning Saturday afternoon and helped Hamilton defeat Hatley 7-6 in game two of the Class 2A North State best-of-three state playoff series.
With the victory, Hamilton (15-10) advances to the Class 2A best-of-three state title series Friday to play the winner of Enterprise and Loyd Star at Freedom Ridge State Park in Ridgeland.
Hamilton needed any kind of lift in the sixth. It had just two hits against starting pitcher Lesley Hudson and had lost all of the momentum after Hatley had rallied from a 3-0 deficit to take a 5-3 lead.
With five outs to go before Hamilton was forced to play a winner-take-all game three, Dahlem knew she had to do anything to get on base.
Things didn''t start with much promise.
"I looked at the first one and it was the prettiest pitch ever," Dahlem said. "I swung and fouled tipped that one. Then she threw me a changeup (for a strike) and I knew I had to swing (at the next pitch). I just stuck my bat out and hit it and I got lucky and it got down."
Dahlem''s bloop went behind third base and shortstop and just in front of the left fielder.
Hudson walked Sydney Sanders and No. 9 hitter Caitlyn Atkins followed with a single up the middle to load the bases.
Miranda McCormick found herself in a similar situation as Dahlem. The senior center field swung and missed at a changeup to fall behind 1-2. She kept her focus and her hands back and delivered on the next pitch, lining a two-run single to right field to tie the game.
"Coming up for that hit for my new team was great. It made me feel good," said McCormick, who transferred from Hatley to Hamilton and has played for the Lady Lions the past two seasons. "Katie Beth did a great job starting us off and getting on. It just was contagious."
McCormick knew Dahlem''s hit was just the first of bigger things to come.
Kelle West kept the rally going by grounding a single off the glove of third baseman Courtney Fretwell, who was playing in. The hit gave the Lady Lions a 6-5 lead.
Shelby Savage followed by grounding hard back to Hudson, who looked to third to freeze the runner. But she turned back to first to retire Savage, which allowed McCormick to score.
Hatley nearly tied the game in the top of the seventh. West recorded the first out with a diving catch to her left. Fretwell singled and was nearly doubled off first when third baseman Anna Imel caught a line drive. But first baseman Lyndsey Williams couldn''t catch Imel''s throw and the ball went out of play, sending Fretwell to third.
Meagan Dabbs'' RBI single made it 7-6. Lauren Sloan''s single put runners on first and second, but Savage caught a popup from Taylor Barrett to send the Lady Lions to the state final.
The players'' reactions showed the mix of emotions they battled to win the North Half. Dahlem tossed her glove in the air in excitement after Savage gloved the final out, while Savage, who missed Friday''s game one due to family issues, flung her glove to the ground in frustration.
Hamilton coach Jason Cobb said the Lady Lions did well to maintain their focus the past two days.
"Shelby is going through a rough time in the last three days, and I think she just really wanted it and really wanted to play so hard and have such a good game," Cobb said. "She had a good game, but she wasn''t on top of her game. Whether everything going on with her family was in the back of her mind, I don''t know, but she is a trooper. She is going to do what she has to do. I am proud of her for the situation she had to go into, and the rest of the kids."
Savage allowed just seven hits and walked only three. She overcame four errors and times when it appeared she was frustrated the home plate umpire wasn''t calling pitches she liked strikes.
Still, Hamilton maintained its focus and played with "fire and desire," just like the colorful sign taped to its dugout wall encourages it to do.
"It sucks whenever you''re up and all of a sudden they''re beating you, but you jut have to stay positive and fight back," West said. "Some girls were down, but you have to keep telling yourself you can''t get down and you have to stay positive and focused or it is lost."
Four of Hamilton''s six hits came in the sixth. It capitalized on two of Hatley''s five errors in the first to score two runs and another error in the third to make it 3-0.
Hatley took advantage of Hamilton''s mistakes to score two runs (on one error) in the fourth and two more runs (on two errors) in the fifth to take the lead.
But Dahlem knew the Lady Lions were going to put those mistakes behind them. All they needed was one hit to get them going, and she was happy to provide the spark.
"I knew we had to get a hit or have someone on base," Dahlem said. "I kept telling myself this is my time, this is my time. I did what I could do to get one."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.