Oakland was primed to win a third postseason game in its last at-bat Friday.
Shana Ward wasn’t prepared to watch Soddy-Daisy’s season end.
Ward tied the game with a two-run single in the seventh inning and her squeeze bunt won it in the ninth as the Lady Trojans subdued Oakland, 5-4, in the Class AAA softball sectional at Clifford Kirk Stadium.
“Ward’s the hero today,” Soddy-Daisy coach Wes Skiles said. “I hate to single out one kid, but you can’t ignore what she did.”
The win punched third-ranked Soddy-Daisy’s ticket to the state tournament next week in Murfreesboro where the Lady Trojans (35-8) will be seeking a ninth championship.
“It was nine long innings,” said Lady Trojans pitcher Emily Edwards, who in a rare dual performance was the starter and closer against the Lady Patriots. “But it was completely worth every minute.”
The last time Soddy-Daisy was at Spring Fling – a TSSAA conglomeration of spring sports competition that will see 44 championships determined – it brought home a title in 2012.
Friday’s showdown, pitting district champions, was a rematch of the 2003 sectional and the Lady Trojans won that one as well, using the victory as a springboard to their fourth state championship.
After missing out on the 2013 Spring Fling, the Lady Trojans are back and third baseman Grayson Brown was giddy as darkness fell at the stadium.
“I feel amazing,” said Brown, whose sacrifice bunt moved two runners into scoring position in the ninth inning. “I’m a sophomore and this will be my first trip to state. I can’t wait and I’m so excited.”
Suffering such an emotional loss was tough on sixth-ranked Oakland (39-16).
The Lady Patriots trailed early and spent a lot of energy just to tie the game at 2-2 after five innings. The roller coaster zoomed up in the seventh when Oakland (39-16) grabbed a 4-2 lead on Abby Sargent’s two-run home run off Shonna Penney.
Edwards returned to the circle to put quell the Oakland rally and the Lady Trojans’ dramatic comeback in the ninth sent shockwaves through the entire Lady Patriots’ travel party.
“My girls are heartbroken,” Oakland coach Janice Morey said. “I probably won’t know yet how bitter this loss will be. I’m still not sure the season is over, but I’m sure it will sink in on the two-hour ride home.”
Oakland tied the game with single runs in the fourth on Maleia Gray’s single to left and the fifth when Haley Carter was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
The Lady Patriots took a 4-2 lead in the seventh against Penney, who relieved Edwards after she hit Carter in the fifth inning.
Oakland pitcher Lacie Rinus, a smooth-throwing sophomore left-hander, led off with a single to left. Carter bunted Rinus to second and Sargent hit a 2-2 Penney offering over the left-field fence, setting off a wild celebration in the dugout and amongst Oakland fans in the stands.
Penney got behind Savannah Lee 2-0 when Skiles decided to bring Edwards back to the circle.
Edwards finished walking Lee, but she induced Gray into a groundout and McKinley Preston flied out to right to end the threat.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever pulled one of them (Edwards or Penney) and put one back in,” Skiles said. “But I always tell them to be ready. I watched her body language. Emily was good to go.”
The Lady Trojans, who took a 2-0 lead on RBI singles by Abby Walker – the ball landed on the right-field foul line – and Jessica Boles in the second inning after Hannah Smith started the rally with a one-out double, were not about to roll over.
Brooke Hale reached on an infield error to start Soddy-Daisy’s comeback.
After Swafford flied out, Reynolds, the Lady Trojans’ primary power source, rifled a double to left-center field, pushing Swafford to third and Brown walked to load the bases. Ward then flipped a Texas-league single into shallow right field, driving in the game-tying runs.
Rinus struck out Smith to send the game into extra innings.
“We felt good after Abby’s home run because Lacie has been lights out of late,” Morey said. “With the two-run lead we felt pretty comfortable. You might get one run off her but she doesn’t give up two very often.”
Edwards yielded a leadoff single to Savannah Decker in the eighth and retired the next three on two groundouts and a strikeout.
In the ninth, the Soddy-Daisy right-hander got two quick outs before walking Lee on four straight pitches. Gray flied out to end the inning.
“I think that’s the first time I’ve done that,” Edwards said of returning to the game. “After coach told me to stay ready I went to the bullpen and worked on what I struggled with earlier in the game. I believed in Shonna, but I was ready when I had to come back.”
Swafford opened Soddy-Daisy’s ninth with an infield hit off Rinus, who struck out 12 in the Lady Patriots’ regional title-game loss to Coffee County on Thursday.
Rinus hit Haley Reynolds with a fastball in the side to put runners at first and second.
Both runners advanced on Brown’s well executed bunt.
“That’s probably the second time I’ve bunted all season,” Brown said. “I had no idea he (Skiles) was going to do a squeeze on the next play. I just wanted to move the runners over for a power hitter to get a hit.”
Skiles had other ideas and this time he went with his instincts.
“I wanted to squeeze earlier and went against my gut,” Skiles said, “so there was no way I was doing that again. My gut said squeeze bunt. That’s what we did. I gave her the sign and she executed it perfectly.”
Ward placed a perfect bunt down the third-base line and Swafford slid home, knocking the ball away from Oakland catcher McKinley Preston, who took a short toss from third baseman Gray.
The ball rolled away from Preston and Swafford looked up at the plate umpire who was calling her safe in a chaotic moment that ended the game.
Morey said she wasn’t expecting a bunt. Twice earlier in the game when she suspected a bunt might be coming, the coach put second baseman Hannah McCravy at third and placed Gray, who was playing third, over at second.
“We didn’t switch in the ninth,” Morey said.
That third final at-bat win had slipped through the Lady Patriots’ hands.
Oakland, which saw its 2005 season end with a 5-0 loss to Soddy-Daisy in the sectional, won the District 7-AAA title game against Smyrna in its last at-bat and duplicated the fete in a Region 4-AAA semifinal win over Lincoln County.
“We had the confidence to do it because we’ve had success in the past,” Morey said. “You’re excited about your chances, but we just didn’t have enough to pull it off.”
Oakland 000 110 200 – 4 9 1
Soddy-Daisy 020 000 201 – 5 8 1
Rinus and Preston; Edwards, Penney (5), Edwards (7) and Moore.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)