EUPORA – Eupora couldn't have asked to be placed in a better situation in its best-of-three, Class 2A softball playoff series against Mantachie on Saturday.
Having already won the day's first game 11-3, the Lady Eagles held a 10-0 advantage over the Lady Mustangs in the fourth inning of game two.
Then came the downward spiral from which Eupora never recovered.
The Lady Eagles squandered their 10-run advantage, lost 13-12, then never led in a decisive game three that was won 8-7 by Mantachie.
The incredible turn of events sends the Lady Mustangs to the North State title series and leaves Eupora wondering what might have been.
"It's tough," said Lady Eagles head coach Trae Embry. "Especially being up like we were in that second game. Up 10-0, we're one inning away from (winning via the 10-run mercy rule). Then all of a sudden, it just all breaks loose on us."
Saturday's happenings were so improbable, Mantachie head coach Bryan Loague admitted he was ready to pack it in.
"I thought we were done," said Loague. "In the third inning, I basically told the team they were turning their suits in on Monday and about half of them wouldn't be getting them back in the spring. Then they decided they wanted to play. They decided they didn't want to turn their suits in yet. They just never quit. They're young and don't know any better I guess."
Even with the Mantachie comeback in game two, Eupora (16-13) could have still won the series by rebounding in game three.
Embry did all he could do to ensure there would be no carryover effect from the previous contest.
"You just have to tell the team to put it behind them," said Embry. "You just have to play. When you play a best-of-three in one day with young kids, you just don't know how they'll respond."
It was a few innings into the third game before Eupora seemed to truly recover.
Mantachie (21-9) sprinted out to a 6-1 lead after three and half innings and looked primed to coast into the next round of the playoffs.
Finally, in the bottom of the fourth, the Lady Eagles showed signs of life.
Allie Steadman led off the frame with a triple for Eupora and was driven in on Lindsey Williamson's double a batter later.
Chrissy Vanderford singled home Williamson to trim Mantachie's lead to 6-3.
"For three innings, we didn't do anything," said Embry. "Finally, Lindsey and Allie and Chrissy stepped up."
After Mantachie stretched its advantage to 7-3 in the top of the sixth, the Lady Eagles answered with a three-spot in their half.
In the inning, Hannah McDowell, Lexie Boykin, and Haileigh Hodges all reached base and scored, pulling Eupora within a run.
Mantachie notched an insurance run in the seventh to make it 8-6.
Down to their final at-bats in the bottom half, the Lady Eagles made things interesting. With one out and Williamson at second, Vanderford hit a deep drive to center that just missed clearing the fence for a game-tying home run.
"Missed it by 5 feet maybe," said Embry.
Instead, Vanderford's fly ball turned into out number two of the inning.
McDowell followed Vandeford with a single that scored Williamson to get Eupora back within one, and Boykin reached a batter later with a single of her own.
So the stage was set for Maggie Parsons with the tying and go-ahead runs aboard.
As poetic as it would have been for one of Embry's two seniors to notch a game-winning hit, it wasn't to be.
Parsons tapped a grounder back to the mound that resulted in the game's final out.
It also ended Parsons' slowpitch softball career, along with fellow senior Karlee Stewart's.
"They've both been very loyal to me and have been with us since sixth grade," said Embry of Parsons and Stewart. "They're both great kids."
Embry can now only wish that his time with Parsons, Stewart, and the rest of his team could have lasted a little longer.
"You've got to make plays to win," said Embry. "You can't let what you're doing at the plate affect your fielding and you have to get hits in crucial situations. You just have to make plays.
"Today was a heartbreaker."