Lady Indians suffer first loss in regular season finale
FORT WHITE — Undefeated no more.
The Lady Indians, ranked second in Class 1A in the Miracle Sports state softball poll, were hoping to end the regular season without a blemish on their record, but the Class 1A No. 3 Fightin’ Tigers had other ideas.
Union County used two big innings — scoring four runs in the fifth and five more in the sixth — to rally past Fort White 10-5 in the final District 6-1A contest of the season Friday night.
The loss dropped Fort White (16-1, 11-1) into a tie for first place with Union County (15-3, 11-1) in the district, pushing the teams to a coin flip tiebreaker. Luckily for the Indians, they won the toss for the district tournament’s top-seed and will get first round bye into the district semifinals on Tuesday.
Union County, the two-seed, will face Hawthrone in the district quarterfinals on Monday.
“I’ve said it all season, we’re two evenly matched teams,” Fort White head coach Michele Padgett said. “We had some errors and some base running errors that hurt. We didn’t even have to say anything to the girls in the huddle [afterwards] because they told us.”
A throwing error allowed the Fightin’ Tigers to gain momentum in the fifth and take the lead after falling behind 4-1. After back-to-back singles by Lexi Androlevich and Teala Howard, Kensley Hamilton hit a slow roller back to the mound that turned the tide of the game.
Fort White starting pitcher Morgan Cushman grabbed it as fast as she could but threw the ball past first baseman Shelby Dubose, allowing Androlevich and Howard to score while advancing Hamilton all the way to third base.
Devin Lewis then hit an RBI single to tie the game before Kaylan Tucker gave Union County the lead for good with an RBI double.
“There was a lot of hype, being at home and everything so I think that played a little part in it,” Padgett said. “The nerves got the best of them tonight.”
Things got a lot worse in the sixth as Union County sent 10 batters to the plate to blow the game open.
The Fightin’ Tigers loaded the diamond to begin the frame before Howard brought two runners home with a double to extend the lead to 7-4. Lewis’ sacrifice fly then doubled Union County’s advantage over Fort White.
Tucker followed with a groundout to Cushman but not without scoring Howard for another run. Madelyn Kish’s RBI single a few batters later put the Fightin’ Tigers ahead 10-4.
Cushman would finish the inning before being replaced by Dubose for the seventh, finishing with six strikeouts while giving up 10 runs — eight earned — on 13 hits.
“We had talked about going ahead and making the switch but then we said let’s do it next inning,” Padgett said. “We had talked about putting Shelby in because they were catching up to Morgan so that could’ve maybe affected the outcome of the game. We probably waited an inning too late to do that.”
Fort White’s mistakes weren’t limited to just the field.
The Indians had a base running blunder in the second inning that cost them a huge opportunity to put runs on the board early. With Jamie Tolkkinen on third base and Jessica Burns on second in the second inning, Aubrey Callum hit a ground ball back to the mound that would quickly turn disastrous for the Indians.
Union County starting pitcher Brooke Waters caught Tolkkinen in a rundown between third and home for the second out of the inning. Burns then ran too far towards third base and was also tagged out in a rundown between third and second to end the threat.
Hamilton, who finished 3-for-5, then gave Union County a 1-0 lead with an RBI single the following inning. Fort White answered in the fourth, sending ten batters to the plate for four runs.
Kylee Crews and Shaylen Raulerson each had RBI doubles while Raulerson later scored on an error and Kimberley Boone scored another on a bases loaded walk. That forced Union County to remove Waters from the game for Tucker, who got all three outs in the inning.
Fort White’s only other run came courtesy of an RBI single by Cushman in the sixth off of Androlevich, who pitched the final three innings for Union County and picked up the victory.
The Indians will face the winner of Monday’s district quarterfinal between Newberry and Hilliard on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Union County.
“The girls [afterwards] were out here clapping and cheering and saying ‘hey, we know we can play better,’ so we have a lot of confidence in them,” Padgett said.