Dixie County returns to state semifinals

Dixie County's Jakayla Henderson with the out against Williston's Maci Vonderstrasse in the bottom of the third inning on Tuesday.
Photo by C.J. Gish

It’s tough to beat a team three times in a season, especially the No. 1 team in the state.

But that’s what visiting Dixie County (Cross City) did in its Class 1A-Region 4 Final on Tuesday night, breaking a 2-2 tie with a three-run sixth inning en route to a 5-3 win against top-ranked Williston in front of an overflow crowd.

It completed a three-game sweep of the Red Devils (26-3), who lost twice to the Bears during the regular season.

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“Fort White, we beat them two times last year,” said Dixie County coach Greg Wimberley. “When it mattered, they beat us (7-5 in last year’s state semifinals). We have to win the game that matters, and when the game matters, is in the postseason, and that’s where we’re at and they just won it.”

Photo by C.J. Gish Dixie County pitcher Bria Hinkle had eight strikeouts and allowed four hits in a 5-2 win over Williston on Tuesday.

The victory sends the Bears (21-5) to their second straight final four appearance.

“We loved it last year but this game right here, man I’ll tell you what, I mean all year long everybody’s talked about Williston, Williston, Williston, and nobody, I know we started the season off rough and everybody kind of looked at that, but what people didn’t understand about this team is we’ve got players out of place,” said Dixie County coach Greg Wimberley. “We’ve got five brand new starters this year on this team so we had players that we were trying to figure out where everybody played and once we figured it out, man these girls just clicked.”

Senior Bria Hinkle tossed a complete game four-hitter with no walks and eight strikeouts.

“If she ain’t the best pitcher in 1A, I mean she hits spots, she’s not going to overwhelm you with 64-65 mph pitches but she’s going to hit you 60 miles an hour and she’s going to hit spots and you’ve got to make the adjustment,” Wimberley said. “If you can’t do that, she’s going to beat you every time.”

Wimberley said ‘everything’ was working for Hinkle, the rise ball, the screwball, and the curveball helped her finish with five 1-2-3 innings.

“I don’t think we threw a fastball all night long,” he said.

The No. 2 seed Bears struck first with a run in the top of the first inning.

Photo by C.J. Gish Williston’s Savannah Rodriguez with a third inning catch for an out in deep center field against Dixie County on Tuesday.

Sophomore Ava Bechtold lined a shot just over the head of third baseman Karley Jerrels for a two-out hit.

That brought up senior catcher Peyton Hatcher, who leads the team with a .521 batting average.

Williston pitcher Nevaeh Hayes intentionally walked Hatcher, but then the junior walked the next two batters as freshman Jaicee Brown walked with the bases loaded for a 1-0 lead.

Williston answered in the bottom of the second inning with a pair of runs.

Senior Livie Davis, who has signed with Eastern Florida State University, popped up into center field and it dropped for a hit. The ball was bobbled in center field for an error, allowing Davis to get to second base.

Freshman Baylee Cribbs laid down a sacrifice bunt, but the throw by Hinkle was wide of first base for an error, allowing Davis to score and Cribbs to reach second base.

With the game tied at 1-1, Cribbs stole third but it was an errant throw to third base by Hatcher to score Cribbs for a 2-1 lead.

“Very good game, back-and-forth,” said Williston coach Carl Williams. “It’s pretty much what I expected. The outcome wasn’t what I was looking for but the game itself was what I expected. I expected it to be back and forth all the way through and it lived up to what it’s worth.”

After Dixie County tied it on an RBI single by Brown in the top of the fifth, Hatcher would get a chance to atone for the error in the top of the sixth.

With the bases loaded and two outs, Hatcher popped it up into right center field. The ball ended up dropping and Hatcher cleaned the bases with a double and 5-2 lead.

Dixie County's Gracie McKinnon with a second inning double against Williston.
Photo by C.J. Gish Dixie County’s Gracie McKinnon with a second inning double against Williston.

“In a game like this, an out here, a missed out there, a missed hit there, could cost you the game and tonight it got us,” Williams said. “It should have been a routine. It should have been an out and when you don’t get outs when they present themselves, bad things happen.”

It appeared it should have been caught, but Wimberley said there is something about Hatcher’s fly balls.

“She hit that ball and it went straight up in the air but the thing about it is she hits the ball so high that it just plays tricks on outfielders,” he said. “When she does hit a pop up, and that’s very rarely, it’s so high that we have a chance. And that’s why I tell my girls when she’s up to bat, if we’ve got two outs we’re running. Everybody, as fast as you can, because you never know.”

The loss snapped Williston’s 15-game winning streak, while the Bears won their 10th in a row.

Dixie County will play at a time to be determined on Monday in the FHSAA Class 1A state semifinals at Legends Way Ball Fields in Clermont.

Top seeds Jay, Liberty County (Bristol), and Branford also advanced. The teams will be reseeded to determine matchups.

Softball results – Tuesday, May 17

Class 1A-Region 3 Final

1 Branford 2, 3 Aucilla Christian (Monticello) 0

Class 1A-Region 4 Final

2 Dixie County (Cross City) 51 Williston 3

Class 3A-Region 1 Semifinal

1 Hernando (Brooksville) 5, 5 Santa Fe (Alachua) 2

Photo by C.J. Gish Williston’s Raegan Geiger gets the third out of the second inning against Dixie County’s Emily Chewning on Tuesday.

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