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Fun in Frostproof

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Lady Indians notch convincing win over Bulldogs to earn fourth meeting with Trenton in softball

By Sean Arnold

In its district championship game against Trenton, the Chiefland softball team was victimized by a conspiracy of subpar defense and the Lady Tigers’ speed and short game.

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At Frostproof last Thursday in the Class 1A, Region 4 semifinals, the Lady Indians were on the other side of that equation, proving they’re not just about the power game. Chiefland applied pressure on a stumbling Lady Bulldog defense, uncharacteristically peppering them with a string of bunts while sprinkling in ground-ball hits and pushing the issue on the base paths, as CMHS is wont to do.

The outcome was in little doubt after the top of the third, when the Lady Indians poured on seven runs to jump ahead 10-0, eventually picking up a 12-1 victory in five innings on the three-hour (one way) road trip.

The win set multiple new milestones for the softball program. The Lady Indians (19-6) extended their state playoff win streak to 13 games, and will now play in their fourth straight regional final (“Elite 8”).

Four-year starters Emily Hallman, Takiya London, Lauren Parker, Sydney Parks and Samantha Rolfe have not lost a state playoff game in high school.

It was also the most lopsided playoff win in program history.

On Friday, Trenton defeated Fort Meade 10-0 in five innings to to set up a second straight regional championship matchup between the Lady Tigers and Indians. The teams will have met eight times in two seasons.

Trenton took two out of three this season, including that aforementioned district title tilt, with Chiefland prevailing 2-1 in their previous meeting in Trenton on April 14.

Last year, the Lady Indians scored a pair in the bottom of the seventh for a 6-5 come-from-behind win over the Tigers to advance to their third straight state final four, eventually capturing their third state title in as many seasons.

In Frostproof, Chiefland sent 10 batters to the plate in a third-inning rally, sparked by a Takiya London base-hit grounder up the middle. Sophomore Macie Thomas then hung a fly ball double into right-field against a stiff incoming wind, bringing in London from second.

Junior Erika Gilliam bunted home Jocelyn McGee, running for Thomas, to make it 5-0. An Aleaha Rhoomes grounder picked up Gilliam and landed Rhoomes at second base on an ensuing Bulldog error. Karlie Meeks, who is hitting 9 for 19 (.474) in her last seven games, delivered a base-hit through the hole between third and short to put runners on first and third with one out.

Another Frostproof error came on a grounder by Sydney Parks, allowing Rhoomes to come home. Emily Hallman then bunted home Meeks, before Parks scored on a Lauren Parker sacrifice bunt.

London brought the inning full circle when she singled to bring in Hallman before getting caught at second trying to stretch it into a double. The senior shortstop finished 3 for 3 to extend her hitting streak to 12 games.

Sophomore pitcher Kensley Durrance was dominant out of the gate in her first playoff start, fanning seven of the first nine batters she faced. She allowed five hits and one walk, and finished with 10 strikeouts in five innings, marking the 20th time this season the right-hander has struck out as many or more batters than innings pitched.

“Our pitching and defense needed to get back to where we were and try to get out of the mindset that Trenton had given us with, ‘Illegal pitch, illegal pitch,’” CMHS coach Wayne Weatherford said, referring in part to an illegal pitch call against Durrance on the first pitch of the district championship game. “We just weren’t where we needed to be and tonight the defense was a lot better. It was definitely big for (Durrance) in her first playoff start.

“The bats were okay, but we did enough to win and that’s what’s important.”

The Bulldogs put runners in scoring position to no avail in the second, third and fourth innings, but were thwarted by Durrance’s pitching as well as a pickoff throw at second by Hallman and a grab in foul territory by the catcher. FMHS led off with back-to-back hits in the fifth, including on a bunt single, before scoring on an error – the only one committed by Chiefland – for its lone run.

Shelby Garrett, an eighth-grader who collected a double at the plate for Frostproof in the second, went four innings in the circle as the starter, yielding one walk, 10 hits and three hit-batters.

“She’s going to be something special,” FMHS coach Julie Mulder said of Garrett. “We made more errors, that was the ballgame.

“The best team won tonight. We came in here feeling like we could win, we really, really did. (Our players) didn’t know enough to know what they were facing, but that’s good. I couldn’t be prouder of them.

“It’s all about the little things. We got rattled.”

For the Lady Indians, Thomas was 2 for 3, and Gilliam was 2 for 2 with a bunt single, a hit-by-pitch and three runs scored.

Thomas lashed a line-drive single in the opening frame to load the bases, setting up a run by Lauren Parker on a wild pitch to make it 1-0. In the second, Gilliam (HBP) scored on an error and an interference call at the plate, before Meeks bunted in Rhoomes, who reached on an error, putting Chiefland ahead 3-0.

Despite the defeat, Frostproof left with its head held high, knowing what could be ahead for a lineup made up of mostly freshmen and middle-schoolers, as they lose just one senior – Warner University signee McKenzye Bobb. The Lady Bulldogs were a surprise in their district tournament in advancing and beating Fort Meade in the championship game after losing twice to the Miners and finishing the season with seven-straight losses and a losing record.

“The district championship was emotionally exhausting,” said Mulder, who led the program to a state championship in 2006. “We put so much effort into it because we felt like (Fort Meade) was not better than us.

“We played against a (Chiefland) team that started six seniors. There’s a reason why they won state three times in a row. They’re well coached.”

Chiefland opened the state playoffs last year with a 6-0 win over Frostproof at home.

The regional final in Trenton is at 7 p.m.