Raw video: Lexington Wildcats win softball state championship
The underdogs can call themselves the top cats now.
Lexington used the strength of three home runs and the gutsy pitching performance of Allie Light to claim its first state softball championship since 2001 with a 6-5 victory over Byrnes in the decisive third game Friday night at Northwestern High.
Hannah Kumiyama hit a two-run shot in the first inning, Jessica Senn added a solo blast in third and Saige Stanley delivered the game-winner in the fifth inning. Light did the rest after a shaky first two innings.
“It was a new experience for them because this was my first year at Lexington,” Laurie Epps said. “They bought into the process and what we were trying to get them to do. We told them, ‘We came to win a state championship,’ and that’s what we did this year.”
It didn’t come without its tense moments. Lexington lost the series opener at Byrnes after blowing a huge early lead. They claimed a 5-1 victory on Wednesday to set the stage for the winner-take-all contest Friday.
Kumiyama started things with a two-run home run as the second batter of the game. The South Carolina signee didn’t see another pitch the rest of the game as Byrnes elected to intentionally walk her the next three times up.
“I actually didn’t expect to get pitched to in my first at-bat,” Kumiyama said. “I knew my team would step up and they did. This is a great group of girls and I believe in all of them.”
It got tense because the Rebels scored two in the first and three more times in the second without hitting a ball out of the infield.
Light got stronger from that point forward. The Arkansas commitment threw 44 pitches in the first inning and finished at over 140 for the game. She only allowed three hits after the first two innings. Byrnes (29-5) let a solid scoring opportunity slip away in the sixth inning.
The first two runners reached but on a fly ball to Kumiyama in right field, she threw a bullet to third to double up the runner trying to advance on the play.
The Rebels then had runners at first and second when Alyssa McCraw couldn’t field it clean enough to make a play, but the runner tried to score from second. McCraw fired home and Sarah Gordon ran the runner down before she could get back to third.
“The first inning was tough, but I knew we couldn’t give up. This team has been resilient throughout the season being able to come back from adversity, just relax, make the plays and be us,” Light said. “It means to the world to bring a state championship back to Lexington. We’ve been working so hard for this. I’m excited to go to school on Monday.”
Jessica Senn started the comeback with a solo home run deep to right field in the third inning. Lexington (26-4) tied it on a two-run double by Gordon in the fourth. Stanley then hit the game-winner in the fifth inning. It was a high, towering shot that just landed inside the foul pole, barely beyond the fence.
“I was waiting on her to give me a good pitch,” Stanley said. “She was pitching me outside and that’s not my kind of thing. She gave me a pitch right at my knees on the inside and I knew I had to take that pitch when I could. It kept going and going and I was very surprised it went out.”
Light retired the side in the seventh with the final out coming on a diving catch from Peri Rouillard in centerfield.
“A lot of times, we were overlooked,” Kumiyama said. “We’ve been calling ourselves the underdogs all season. We weren’t supposed to make it out of lower state, so to be here and win for our school means so much.”
WP: Allie Light. LP: Kasey Widmyer. Hitters: L - Jaci Fleming 2-3; Hannah Kumiyama 1-1, HR, 2 RBI; Sarah Gordon 2-4, 2B, 2 RBI; Jessica Senn 2-4, HR; Saige Stanley 1-3, HR.