SPORTS>>Walk-off hit dooms Beebe
Leader sports staff
Fayetteville — The Lady Badgers led the whole way, but a line-drive from Vilonia’s Savanah Roland with two outs scored two runs for the Lady Eagles, giving them a miraculous come-from-behind 2-1 win during the 5A state championship game at the Ladyback Yard Friday afternoon.
With a 1-0 lead heading into the final turn, the Lady Badgers needed only three outs to secure the first state softball title for Beebe. The first out came easily enough, as Beebe retired the leadoff batter.
Both teams had played a fairly clean game up until then, but a pair of errors for the Lady Badgers would give the Lady Eagles’ struggling offense new life in the closing moments. Courtney McFarland reached for Vilonia on an error at shortstop to put the tying run in position. McFarland then moved to second on a wild pitch from Lady Badgers hurler Callie Mahoney, a pitch that would also walk Lady Eagles batter Carley Gaines.
Beebe got its second out when Mahoney struck out Lauren Fougerousse, but catcher Sara Flenor tried to pick off Gaines at first after the throw. Beebe first baseman Ashley Watkins dropped the throw from Flenor, which allowed McFarland to move to third.
Gaines then set up the dramatic finish for Vilonia when she stole second on Roland’s at-bat. Lady Eagles sophomore Roland was making her first trip to the plate in the contest as a sub-hitter, and the move paid off for Vilonia. Roland sent Mahoney’s final offering into left-center with a line drive hit that scored McFarland and Gaines to end the game.
“We did hit it well,” Lady Badgers coach Terry Flenor said. “But we did it at the top of the order every time and never could get a hit when we got people on base. Bad luck was part of it, but they got a hit when they needed it, and it was a solid hit.”
Vilonia coach Calvin Roninette was not surprised by the stout defensive effort from his squad.
“We have a defense,” Roninette said. “That’s what has kept us in a lot of games all year.” Roninette also acknowledged that putting his sophomore in with two outs was a calculated risk.
“We’ve got good hitters all down the lineup and on the bench,” Roninette said. “I felt like if our defense would keep holding them, we’d give ourselves a chance at some point. Savanah is just a sophomore, but we knew we could stick her in there since the other girls weren’t doing that well, and she would make contact. All we can ask of them is to put it in play, and we knew she could do that.”
Beebe’s only run would come at the start of the contest. Senior second baseman Brandi Birkhalter reached on a walk in the top of the first inning, and made her way around the diamond on steals. Birkhalter was initially called out at third, but the umpires determined that interference from the Vilonia shortstop impeded her progress, and awarded her with the steal.
Birkhalter came in on a passed ball one pitch later for the run, giving the Lady Badgers an early 1-0 advantage. That lead would hold until the final inning, though numerous chances to pad that lead were left on throughout the contest.
Senior pitcher Callie Mahoney singled in the top of the second inning, and stole her way to third with only one out, but the Lady Badgers failed to bring her home. The leadoff batters for both the second and third innings reached, but both were left on.
The difference in the game would turn out to be two potential runs left during the top of the fourth inning. Sara Flenor doubled to start things off for Beebe in the fourth, and Ashley Watkins was hit by a pitch to put two Lady Badgers on with no outs. Their best opportunity score would go unfulfilled, however, as the Vilonia defense stiffened once again to retire the next three batters.
Birkhalter tried to repeat her first inning efforts in the top of the fifth inning, reaching on a single and stealing second. As in the three innings prior, however, Birkhalter was still standing on base when the third out was called, leaving another badly needed score by the wayside.
Beebe finished the game with one run on six hits, and had three errors. The Lady Eagles took the win and the state title with two runs on four hits, and had no errors. Beebe finishes the season with a final record of 23-7, and has been a finalist for two of the last three seasons.