Lexington wins deciding game of Class 5A softball final

Thomas Grant Jr. photo.

The 18-year wait for a state softball title in the trophy case at Lexington High School ended Friday night at Northwestern High School.

The Lady Wildcats defeated J.F. Byrnes 6-5 to claim the Best-of-Three Class 5A championship series.

In completing the comeback from 0-1 down to claim the program’s fifth state title, Lexington (26-4) rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the deciding game with four unanswered runs. Saige Stanley’s towering, tie-breaking home run in the Top fifth was Lexington’s third of the contest and was the difference in the outcome.

“The girls did a great job hanging in there,” first-year head coach Laurie Epps said. “They didn’t give up. They continued to show their resiliency and they believed in each other and I’m so proud of these guys and how they came together and continued to be a team, no matter what happened.”

Lexington jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top first. After Jaci Fleming reached on a leadoff infield single, Hannah Kumiyama sent Haylee Whitesides’ pitch over Tiara Pearson in leftfield and over the fence for her second HR of the series.

It was the University of South Carolina-bound senior’s final at-bat as the Lady Rebels intentionally walked her each time she returned to the plate.

J.F. Byrnes (29-4) answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single by Kasey Widmyer and a RBI fielder’s choice by McKinna Taylor.

The Lady Rebels then capitalized off three Lexington errors for three runs in the second inning to take a 5-2 lead.

A solo home run to right-centerfield by Jessica Senn in the Top third cut the deficit to 5-3.

After Fleming reached on a dropped infield flyball at third base and Kumiyama was intentionally walked in the fourth, Sarah Gordon belted a two-run single to tie the game.

“We know that every now and then, we might have those innings, but we know we’ve got to bounce back,” Epps said. “And we know that our bats have been key all season long and they came through tonight.”

With one out in the Top fifth, Stanley skied a two-strike pitch by Widmyer into the night sky. As the ball fell downward, J.F. Byrnes’ Pearson once again found herself unable to make the catch as it fell behind the fence for the go-ahead score.

“I was more concerned that she was going to catch it,” Stanley said. “I didn’t think it was out, to be honest. I was very surprised. When I started running past first, I was like ‘no, that’s a home run.”

The Lady Rebels threatened again in the Bottom sixth with runners on first and second. As Kumiyama caught a flyball in rightfield, she managed to make the throw to Stanley at third base to throw out the J.F. Byrnes baserunner attempting to advance for the double play.

“Right before, I was like telling myself ‘She’s going to pop it up to you and you’re going to hose the girl at third. When she did it, I knew my throw had to be on point and I knew Saige had my back with the catch and tag right here.”

Another defensive play by the Lady Wildcats’ infield in tagging out the potential go-ahead runner at third base ended the inning.

Light proceeded to get the final three outs in the seventh to start the celebration by the Lexington players and fans.

“It’s all these girls,” Epps said. “They believed. They worked hard. They put the time in and they had fun. This is probably the most fun group of kids I’ve ever been around. They keep it fun and light-hearted and that’s how they play their best.”

The victory moved Lexington into sole possession of fourth place for most state softball titles in the S.C. High School League. It also marked the second straight year a Lexington County team defeated J.F. Byrnes for the Class 5A championship after White Knoll won last year.

Categories: Lexington, Lexington County, Sports