The Fort White softball team continues to make history.
Thanks to a quick start, the Indians defeated Dixie County (Cross City), 7-5, in the FHSAA Class 1A state semifinals at Legends Way Ballfields in Clermont on Tuesday.
The Indians (16-7), who were making their first final four appearance in program history, will play Jay, which defeated Liberty County, 3-2, in the other state semifinal, for the Class 1A state title at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
“It feels so good,” said sophomore Gracie Clemons, who finished 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored. “We all knew from the beginning that we were going to make it this far. We all believed in ourselves, and we all made it here, and I wouldn’t want to do it with any other team.”
Freshman Kadence Compton got the win in the circle with a complete game performance. She also had the game-winning hit—a three-run home run over the left field fence in the top of the second inning for a 7-2 Indians’ lead.
“So exciting,” Compton said about the opportunity to play for a state title. “I couldn’t have done it without my team though. It’s great, amazing. Our coach said since the beginning of the year that we were going to come here, and we did it.”
Clemons led off the game with a double against pitcher Bria Hinkle, who walked one and struck out eight during the game.
Then, the Bears’ Juliann Smith committed an error at shortstop to put two on with no outs.
With one out, junior Ciara Byrd’s squeeze bunt scored Clemons on a fielder’s choice for a 1-0 lead.
“There’s a lot of pressure being the first batter,” Clemons said. “I just love the adrenaline rush from it. I love setting the tone for the team and making everybody happy.”
An RBI single by senior Madalyn Keen a couple of batters later made it 2-0, followed by a two-run single to right field by junior Madison Brown for a commanding 4-0 lead.
It was an important start for the Indians, who were swept by the Bears during the regular season.
“We told the girls they’re expecting the same thing they’ve played and that was probably two of our worst games all year,” said Fort White co-head coach Michele Padgett. “That’s what you’ve got to change. You’ve got to give them something they haven’t seen. They haven’t seen that jump on them out of the gate like we did today. Get them shook up from the get-go.”
The big inning took a little pressure off Compton, who walked one and struck out five in the game.
“It was great because I knew that even if they scored a run that we were still up enough, and one run wasn’t going to hurt, so I knew we were still good,” Compton said. “Even when they scored those runs, I was like, we still got this.”
The Bears (21-5) scored two runs off Compton in the bottom of the first inning on an infield hit up the middle by senior Madisyn Langford with two outs to cut the deficit in half.
“She didn’t have her best stuff,” said Fort White co-head coach Chad Padgett. “But if you can hit your spots, that’s all I ask. She didn’t have the speed she had against Union County, but she was hitting spots. Those two runs in the first were on me.”
Compton gave up two runs in the inning, but she got three back the next inning.
Freshman Morgan Kelly walked to lead off the top of the second, and Clemons singled to center field to put two on with no outs.
Compton then drilled the eventual game-winner.
“I’m pretty sure it was a rise ball inside and I just put my hands to it,” she said.
Hatcher had an RBI double in the second inning and freshman Ava Bechtold singled to center field to drive in a run in the fourth.
Langford’s RBI single scored junior Gracie McKinnon to make it 7-5 in the bottom of the fifth inning. However, Compton retired the final seven batters she faced.
“They beat us in the first two innings,” said Dixie County coach Greg Wimberley. “I told Chad, ‘ya’ll just did a better job than I did.’ As a coach you try to make calls that you think are going to work out right for you, but I didn’t do a very good job of that today. I think I kind of let my girls down.”
Wimberley—who led the Bears to their first final four in program history after beating Taylor (Pierson)— acknowledged the five-run deficit ended up being too much to overcome.
“Any time you are facing a good pitcher, it’s hard to come back from that,” he said. “I don’t care how many innings you’ve got to go. For them to keep fighting though, I told them we just have to add a run in every inning, and they fought, and they tried to do that, but you just hit spots where you don’t score. Fort White did a great job and I’m looking forward to watching them play.”
Chad Padget initially said there would be one key to beating the Royals (21-5) in Wednesday’s state championship game.
“We’ve got to hit the ball,” he said. “That’s the name of the game.”
To which Michele replied, “score runs.”
“Score runs and play defense,” Chad said.
It also never hurts to have timely hitting.
If they get all three, they might just win their first state softball title in school history.