By PATRICK CASEY
Macy Jackson struck out on a 1-2 pitch from Walton junior pitcher Hannah Poole with runners on second and third base in the top of the seventh inning as the Lady Braves softball team won their first Region 1 title in the sport and earned a trip to Vero Beach and the Class 5A Final Four this week with a 2-1 victory over the Baker County Wildcats.
It was sweet revenge for the squad that lost the 2016 Region championship by a 4-0 score to the Wildcats in DeFuniak Springs last season.
Walton plated a run in the bottom of the second inning as the Braves loaded the bases with one out off of pitcher Liz McGovern. Celeste Truett then hit a one-hopper to first baseman Hayleigh Mulkey who fired home to force Kelee Mosley with the return throw from the catcher popping out of Mulkey’s glove and rolling away far enough for Macy Danley to race home on the error with the game’s first run.
Walton added another run in the bottom of the fifth inning as senior Jamie Lamb singled, moved to second on Sydni Earley’s sacrifice and to third base on a wild pitch. After Poole struck out and with Mosley at the plate, a wild pitch by McGovern allowed Lamb to slide in under the tag by the Wildcats pitcher for a 2-0 lead in a very close play at the plate.
Baker County got on the scoreboard in the sixth as Tori Richardson singled and raced to second as Walton leftfielder Chambleigh Webster struggled to find a handle on the softball. Catlin Harvin followed with a single to plate the run but Poole struck out Marissa Rhoden to keep the tying run from scoring.
The Braves saw Mulkey single in the seventh and Taylor Dyal get hit by a pitch to reach base with two outs. A wild pitch moved the tying and go-ahead runs to second and third but Poole got a check swing strikeout from Jackson to end the game.
Danley led the Braves with two of the host squad’s six hits with Walton leaving five runners on base and committing just one error in the field.
Poole was in total control of the contest on the mound for the first five innings as the Wildcats did not record a hit until the sixth inning with the visiting team having just three hits to go with two walks and a hit batter. Poole struck out 11 as the Wildcats left four runners on base.
Walton catcher Jade Larrick turned a fantastic double play in the top of the fifth inning as she picked Dyal’s pop up out of the air and gunned out Mulkey at first to retire the side on the force play in a seven-pitch inning.
Coach Randi Anne McKie praised the girls’ work ethic and defense to finally get over the hump and win the Region title. “Our defense is our key. We are going to enjoy this win and make all the preparations to head to state. We still have bigger goals,” hinting at a run at the state championship.
Assistant coach Ryan Poole told the players, “I am going to try and not get too emotional. From where we started the season to where we are now, look how far we have come. This team believed, never gave up.”
Walton(19-6) will take on two-time defending state champion Coral Springs Charter(28-1) on Friday morning in Vero Beach at 7:35 a.m. in one of two Class 5A state semifinals. Eustis(25-1) sill face Hardee(24-6) out of Wauchula in the second game. The title game will be played the following day on a Saturday morning with first pitch set for 9:05 a.m. Central Time.
Team Notes: Walton is now 2-2 against Marianna in the state playoffs and 1-1 against Baker County. Poole has recorded 227 strikeouts on the mound in 2017, giving her a career total of 743. Coach Randi Anne McKie is in her sixth season as head coach of the squad and she holds a record of 75-65 in that time. The Lady Braves are 61-12 the last three seasons in varsity softball. Walton holds a record of 184-189 in fast-pitch softball all-time. Walton’s 19 wins ties the club with the 2016 team, trailing only the 2015 squad (23 wins) and the 2006 team (21 wins).
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