Quest for title comes up short for Wolverines
East Webster players are presented with their silver medals after Saturday's Class 2A championship series. (Photo by Joel Coleman, SDN)
By JOEL COLEMAN
RIDGELAND â€“ If this was Hollywood, there's no doubt that East Webster head softball coach Meleah Brown would have been placing gold medals, rather than silver, around the necks of her team members.
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Yet as the Class 2A state championship series came to an end at Freedom Ridge Park in Ridgeland Saturday, the same set of Wolverines who overcame a storm-ravaged campus and three division winners just to get to the title set finally succumbed to Enterprise-Clarke.
Two days after the Bulldogs won the series opener 3-2, Enterprise-Clarke completed the sweep with a 9-3 triumph over East Webster.
For the Bulldogs, the victory clinched the school's second-straight state championship.
As for the Wolverines, they'll be forced to settle as the state's runner-up.
Still, not too shabby for a school that, just one season ago, missed out on the playoffs altogether.
"No one even expected us to be here," said East Webster senior starting pitcher Swayze Hollenhead. "It just shows that anything can happen."
In a postseason that has seen the Wolverines battle and come out on top of so many close matchups against the likes of county rival Eupora, Mantachie and division nemesis Hatley, Saturday's game proved to be an uphill battle from the start.
Hollenhead quickly fell into trouble in the top half of the first inning as Enterprise-Clarke loaded the bases with just one out.
The Bulldogs (27-5) capitalized on the situation by pushing across four first-inning runs courtesy of a sacrifice fly from Morgan Porter, a two-run single from Malauri Robinson and a RBI double from Harley Smith.
Despite the rough frame, East Webster bounced right back in their half of the first.
Even facing Enterprise-Clarke's hard-throwing, talented sophomore hurler Hayleigh Harper, the Wolverines closed their deficit to just one run behind an RBI double by Hollenhead that plated Autumn Frost and a two-run double from Montana Spencer that scored Cayley McClellan and Hollenhead.
"We were just meeting the ball out in front and putting it in play," said Brown of her team's offensive success. "I told the girls, you're not going to have to do a whole lot of work. That ball is coming in there pretty fast, if you just meet it out in front, it will go."
Upon seeing East Webster's big first inning, Enterprise head coach Josh Perkins knew something had to be done.
That's when the Bulldogs put a wrinkle in their gameplan.
"I thought (East Webster) was right on it at the plate, keyed up for the fastball," said Perkins. "Our plan was to change speeds a little bit and locate the changeup for a strike, and we did that. That's tough to hit."
Following Spencer's first-inning double, Harper began to change speeds with near-perfection.
After Frost recorded a two-out single in the bottom of the second, East Webster never got another hit.
Harper finished her complete-game effort allowing just four hits, walking just one and striking out 11.
"She's just a really great pitcher," said Hollenhead.
As Harper dazzled, the Enterprise-Clarke offense provided her with ample breathing room.
The Bulldogs scored single runs in the third and fourth innings to push their lead to 6-3 before putting things out of reach with a three-spot in the seventh that was capped by Porter's two-run home run to left field.
The six-run hole was far too much for East Webster to climb out of.
"When (Harper) started mixing that changeup in, it's hard to hit her," said Brown. "That's what made the difference."
As a result, East Webster's season concludes with a final overall record of 20-8.
While the Wolverines fell two wins shy of the perfect ending, Hollenhead says East Webster still has plenty to be proud of.
"We have played with more heart than any other team I've been with," said Hollenhead. "I've been on teams that have won four state championships and...teams in the past, we had more talent than this team.
"This year, we were average. But we came out and just did our jobs and that got us a long way."