Tuesday night’s softball showdown between Williston and Dixie County featured two of the top 10 teams in Class 1A.
Dixie County (Cross City), which was ranked 10th in the state by MaxPreps, struck early and then held on late for a 7-5 win at Class 1A No. 1 Williston.
The victory completed a sweep of the Red Devils (11-2), who lost at Dixie County, 3-2, in the season opener on Feb. 21, but won 11 straight games heading into their second meeting with the Bears (5-4).
“We seem to play our best games against the better teams,” said Dixie County coach Greg Wimberley, whose team advanced to its first final four in program history last year. “All year, I’ve been saying that’s the team to beat and I still believe that. Yeah, we beat them twice, but we beat Fort White twice last year and then got to the final four and they beat us.”
The Bears scored four runs in the top of the first inning.
Senior Gracie McKinnon started the game with a bunt single. Following a sacrifice bunt by senior Emily Chewning, sophomore Ava Bechtold beat out a ground ball to second for an infield hit.
With two on and one out, senior Peyton Hatcher had the first of her three hits with a 2-RBI single to right field for a 2-0 lead.
“She’s been that way all year,” Wimberley said. “She’s really been the spark that has got us going in the games that we’ve won. We go as Peyton goes.”
Senior Bria Hinkle, who pitched a complete game in the circle, reached on fielder’s choice. Courtesy runner Mariah Dykes stole second and went to third on a throwing error by catcher Cheyenne Boggs.
The next batter, junior Paris Williams, grounded to second but the throw to first base was dropped, allowing Dykes to score.
Sophomore Katelynn Blevins singled to center field, scoring Williams for a 4-0 lead.
“In the first half of the inning there were too many sharp balls hit and not fielded cleanly or played out and then our turn on offense we just left too many runners out there,” said Williston coach Carl Williams.
After Hinkle retired the side in order in the bottom of the first inning, including two of her five strikeouts, senior Shylee Brown doubled to start the top of the second inning.
McKinnon walked, putting two on with no outs. That chased starting pitcher Makenna Boyd.
After junior pitcher Nevaeh Hayes struck out sophomore Ava Bechtold, Hatcher hit a ball to short right field but the ball bounced off the glove of second baseman Baylee Cribbs, plating two more runs for a 6-0 lead.
Williston got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the inning.
A base hit by Boggs to left field, followed by an error by the left fielder, scored senior Raegan Geiger, who had led off the inning with a base hit to left field.
Dixie County, which left 10 runners on base, added another run in the top of the fourth inning on an infield hit by Bechtold, which scored Chewning who had bunted and reached on a fielder’s choice.
With the score 7-1, Williston’s best opportunity to get back in the game came in the bottom of the fifth inning.
The Red Devils loaded the bases with no outs.
However, Williston only scored one run on a sacrifice fly by senior Livie Davis, leaving the bases loaded.
Hayes kept the Bears off the scoreboard for the final three innings, setting up a potential comeback in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Hayes reached on an error at first base and Davis was hit by a pitch.
With two on and no outs, Geiger popped up to the catcher in foul territory for the first out.
Then, Boggs doubled down the third base line, driving in both runs to make it 7-3.
“Luckily she came through when we needed it there,” Williams said. “We had us a little momentum going there, but again, our bats laid down on us when we had runners in position.”
After Boyd flew out to center field, senior Karley Jerrels popped up to shortstop, but there was a miscommunication on defense and the ball dropped in front of the left fielder and the centerfielder and right next to Bechtold at short. That allowed another run to score, bringing the tying run to the plate.
However, Hinkle struck out junior Kendall Smith to end the game.
Both teams are back in action on Thursday at 7 p.m. Dixie County will travel to Chiefland for a 1A-District 7 game, while Williston will host Class 5A Columbia (Lake City).