It was 'never quit' intensified Friday night for the Dale Lady Pirates in the semifinals of the Class 2A State Softball Tournament at the Ball Fields at Firelake.
Held hitless through six innings, Dale strung together four straight base hits, including a three-run, walk-off double by freshman Makenzy Harman, in rallying for a stunning 3-2 victory over the Latta Lady Panthers.
“We never quit. We are used to winning. It's hard to count Dale out,” said Lady Pirate head coach Andy Powell. “This game is about timely hitting and making plays.”
Timely hitting indeed.
Freshman designated player Maddie Conley set the stage for the rally when she singled up the middle on a 2-2 count to break up Latta's combined no-hit efforts of starter Jade Sanders and reliever Taryn Batterton. Sophomore Sam Hartman then delivered a single through the left side of the infield off an 0-1 count.
Junior Anna Hester then executed a nifty bunt-single between the third-base line and the pitcher's circle to set up Herman's heroics. Herman, off an 0-2 delivery, smashed the ball to the gap in left-center to score the three runs and cap off the thrilling victory.
The win advances Dale, 33-5 on the season, to the Class 2A state title game for the seventh straight time in the fastpitch variety 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Ball Fields at FireLake.
The Lady Pirates have won two straight titles and four of the last six. They have claimed five state crowns overall and will be bidding for their sixth tonight against Silo, which edged Amber-Pocasset, 7-6, earlier Friday.
Dale sophomore Addie Bell got the pitching win after allowing 10 hits and three walks while striking out one and she was backed by some solid defensive play, despite a pair of errors in the contest.
A first-inning error by the Lady Pirates proved to be harmless and another error in the outfield led to the Lady Panthers' second run. However, Dale made heads-up plays to limit Latta's scoring.
In the first inning, the Lady Pirates turned a 4-6-3 double play. Herman, playing second base, made a diving stab of a grounder up the middle and threw out a runner for the third out in the fourth inning. Earlier in the fourth, Batterton had tripled off the wall to lead off that frame but was run down and tagged out by Bell after a bunt attempt tried to bring her home.
Then in the fifth, shortstop Emilia Idleman gunned down a runner at the plate to prevent another scoring threat.
“Our shortstop was making plays. Those aren't routine plays,” Powell said.
Sanders pitched the first four innings for the Lady Panthers and surrendered no hits and four walks while striking out three. Batterton, who had 13 strikeouts the previous day in a 6-1 Latta win over Hobart, had struck out three and walked just one, with no hits, through the fifth and sixth.
But that was before Conley's lead-off single in the seventh set up the magnificent comeback.
“I think that was as good of win as we've had in a state tournament,” said Powell.
Cheyenne Adair drove home both Lady Panther runs – one in the third and one in the seventh – off a pair of singles in going 2-for-4 from the plate. Jaylee Willis, Hailey Baber and Abbi Atkinson were each 2-for-4 in a losing cause.