Photo by Penny Lomenick
Coach Carlton Gibson lifts the Class AA state softball championship trophy as his players reach to touch the coveted prize.
Photos by Penny Lomenick
Jessica Deming fields a ground ball in game one and then celebrates (below) with Hannah Swallers after the final out in game two.
Hannah Champion catches a fly ball.
Alexis McGreger ties to get the tag on a sliding Tri-County player.
Erin Lomenick makes the catch.
Bailee Floyd makes contact at the plate in game two.
The Marshall Academy softball team wanted nothing less than a state championship this season. And Saturday, the Lady Patriots claimed the ultimate prize in Class AA.
“This group achieved what I knew was possible from the first day of practice,” coach Carlton Gibson said. “This is a very talented group of players.”
MA swept Tri-County Academy in the best-of-three title series, winning the first game at home and then hoisting the state championship trophy in Flora.
In Holly Springs Wednesday, Oct. 4, the Lady Patriots built a 4-0 lead and then hung on for the 4-3 victory.
They scored two in the bottom of the first. Hannah Champion walked and Carlie Vannucci followed with a single to center field. Hannah Swallers then doubled to left field for two runs-batted-in.
The Lady Patriots added their other two runs in the bottom of the second. Tyler Vannucci singled. Later, Alexis McGreger doubled to score Peyton Stephenson, who was a courtesy runner for T. Vannucci. Then Champion hit a fly ball to left and reached on an error, which scored McGreger.
The MA defense was solid behind pitcher Swallers.
“Defense wins championships,” Gibson said.
He said the defense has been anchored by McGreger, a starter since the sixth grade who in recent years has played shortstop.
“She’s been a rock defensively, and we could not have made this journey without her,” Gibson said.
Tri-County scored all three of its runs in the top of the sixth, getting three singles. But Swallers also had three strikeouts.
In the top of the seventh, the Lady Rebels got the potential tying run to third but Swallers recorded her 10th strikeout of the game to end it.
“As the playoffs continued, I really saw Hannah (Swallers) develop into a great pitcher, not just one who pitched,” Gibson said. “I’m so proud of her for all her hard work.”
The Lady Patriots had six hits, and Swallers connected for two of those. In addition to the key hits in the first and second innings, Bailee Floyd had a single in the bottom of the third.
Game two Saturday at Flora was decided in the seventh as Marshall celebrated the 3-0 win for the blue trophy.
Erin Lomenick led off the top of the seventh with a single to center field. T. Vannucci later added a single, which pushed Lomenick to third. Jessica Deming then got the huge hit, a double to left. It scored Lomenick and Stephenson, who was running for T. Vannucci. Faith Shankle then laid down a sacrifice bunt to score Deming.
“Jessica (Deming), who had struggled at the plate most of the year, stepped up big-time and got the clutch hit to win the game,” Gibson said.
Tri-County got one runner on base in the bottom of the seventh, but the game ended and the celebration began when right fielder Sarah Jackson caught a fly ball.
Swallers struck out eight and gave up just three hits.
The only other hit for MA in the game, other than the three in the seventh, was a double by Champion in the top of the first.
It was the third state championship for Marshall Academy softball. The other two came back-to-back in 2007 and 2008.
Coach Gibson emphasized the outstanding leadership of his four seniors, who he said “really stepped up their game.” They are Swallers, McGreger, Deming and Champion. All four have committed to play college softball.
He also said the younger Lady Patriots played beyond their age at times – Shankle at third, T. Vannucci behind the plate and C. Vannucci at first.
There are four juniors – Lomenick, Floyd, Jackson and Stephenson.
“I can’t say enough about their contributions,” he said. “I would go to war with Erin (Lomenick) any day. And Bailee (Floyd) and Sarah (Jackson) played unselfish ball all year long and improved every game. Peyton (Stephenson) was willing to do whatever we needed her to do and became a really good base runner.”
Plus, he said the supporting cast in the dugout was great. Those players included Karina Mays, Scarlett Newman and Lillian Lykens.
“They don’t realize the importance of their role of cheering on and supporting their teammates,” Gibson said. “It was a total team effort. Every player contributed.”
He also dished some “thank yous” after the state championship season.
“We had an amazing group of parents,” Gibson said. “We got so many compliments from other schools about our parents and fans. Thanks to all our supporters who came out to show the girls they care, and thanks to the MA administration for their support.
“It was an honor to work with these kids, and now it’s time to get ready for next year.”
The Lady Patriots finished with a 30-9 record.