It’s never easy to lose a big game, especially a state championship game. The Greenwood Lady Bulldogs invested their hearts and souls in the 2017 season, and just one day after graduation the team’s nine seniors had hoped to cap their high school careers by winning the 6A state softball title.
But it wasn’t to be. In a heartbreaker, the GHS girls fell 3-2 to Sheridan in the championship game last Saturday at Fayetteville’s Bogle Park, home to the Lady Razorbacks.
Greenwood (25-7) and Sheridan (31-4-1) have been the best two teams in 6A for the past three years. The Lady Bulldogs defeated the Lady Yellowjackets for the title in 2015, while Sheridan eliminated Greenwood in the semi-finals last year before beating them again on Saturday for their second consecutive state crown.
The same two teams had played twice previously this spring in tournament play. Greenwood won the first game, 3-2, in extra innings, before losing 2-0 to Sheridan in the 6A West conference tournament finals.
The two squads were clearly evenly matched, and either could have emerged as the winner last Saturday. Both teams had their best pitchers toe the rubber, and both teams had an early two-run homer. But Sheridan got the benefit of two questionable umpiring calls, and as the home team had the edge late in a tie game.
With the score knotted at 2-2, the Lady ‘Jackets took advantage of a pair of GHS throwing errors and a mental lapse to push across the winning run, sliding safely home just ahead of the tag.
The Sheridan girls quickly dogpiled at home plate to celebrate their win, while the Lady Bulldogs came face-to-face with one of this world’s harshest realities – you don’t always get what you want in life.
“We battled the whole game,” said GHS Head Coach Ronnie Sockey. “We had one big hit, they had one big hit, and we kind of got into a little jam there in the seventh inning. We competed the whole game, we just couldn’t find a way to get it done.”
Tied 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Sheridan started the frame with a bunt toward third base, but the throw from Miriah Hamilton was high and sailed down the right field line, allowing the potential winning run to reach second base with no outs.
Another bunt followed, hugging the foul line, before being picked up by first baseman Tessa Shea, who stepped on the bag for the out. After the play, Coach Sockey asked the umpiring crew to confer, thinking the bunt might have gone foul, but the play stood, with the lead runner advancing to third base with one out.
Sockey then gathered his infielders in the middle of the diamond to set the defense, bringing everyone in close for a possible play at the plate on a ground ball.
Sheridan’s next batter hit a bouncer to the right side that was fielded cleanly by second baseman Sidney Bieker. But geared up for a play at the plate, Bieker ignored a possible out at first base with the runner holding at third, and fired home instead.
But for the second time in the inning the throw was high, eluding catcher Sydney Parker. Watching the play develop, the Sheridan runner at third then broke for home.
Parker quickly retrieved the ball from the backstop and made a desperation throw to pitcher Kaila Cartwright covering the plate. But the runner slid in safely ahead of the tag, allowing the Lady Yellowjackets to score the winning run without the benefit of a hit.
Though disappointed with the loss like his players, Coach Sockey explained what happened on the game’s final play. “We wanted to check that runner, because that was the winning run,” he said. “But [we] kind of rushed it a little. It’s hard when [the opposition] puts the pressure on you. That’s the breaks of the game.”
Greenwood took an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning when Paxtyn Hayes singled to open the frame and scored one out later on Miriah Hamilton’s ninth homerun of the season — a high drive that cleared the center field wall. But the Lady Yellowjackets tied the score in the third inning with a two-run bomb of their own.
Those were the only earned runs given up by either starting pitcher, Sheridan’s Regan Martin and Greenwood’s Kaila Cartwright. The Lady Bulldogs out-hit Sheridan five to three, but the Lady ‘Jackets played flawless defense. Cartwright issued two walks and had six strikeouts in the game.
Greenwood’s best chance to score again happened in the fifth inning when Karter Langston and Sidney Bieker had back-to-back hits with one out. Hannah Booker then dropped down a bunt and was called out at first base on a bang-bang play that could have gone either way.
But with two outs and runners at second and third, Paxtyn Hayes hit a short fly ball to center field for the final out. Bieker and Booker also drew consecutive walks with two outs in the seventh, once again setting the stage for Hayes.
The freshman then hit another short fly to center, but Sheridan shortstop Maggie Hicks made a potential game-saving catch, somehow avoiding a collision as three defenders converged on the ball. Hicks earlier tied the score with a two-run homer and was named the game’s most valuable player.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Coach Sockey believes his Lady Bulldogs, will be back for another title run next spring. “We have nine seniors graduating, but there are a lot of young ones that will keep the program going,” he said. “We expect to be back here next year.”
Among the best young players to contribute this season were outfielder and lead-off hitter Paxtyn Hayes and starting shortstop Rheding Wagoner, both ninth graders with three years of eligibility remaining.
Junior pitcher Kaila Cartwright, junior outfielder Ericka Calderon, and sophomore third baseman and power hitter Miriah Hamilton also return next season, forming a solid core of experienced players.