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Lady Indians clinch fourth straight playoff berth in softball

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By Sean Arnold

The top-seeded Chiefland softball team was a heavy favorite going into its District 1A-7 semifinal game against fourth-seeded Branford last Tuesday.

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A lot was on the line, however, including a program-best fourth straight state playoff berth, to keep the Lady Indians on their toes for any upset bid the Lady Buccaneers might’ve hoped for.

With a looming district championship showdown against Trenton, CMHS handled its business at hand, blanking the Bucs in five innings for a 12-0 win behind a no-hitter by Kensley Durrance and a pair of home runs from senior duo Emily Hallman and Samantha Rolfe.

Second baseman Sydney Parks was the spark plug in the leadoff spot for Chiefland, as she got the Lady Indians rolling with a single up the middle in the bottom of the first. Hallman, who moved from her usual third spot to hit second in the order via a swap with fellow senior slugger Lauren Parker, followed with a single to the left side, eventually setting up sophomore Macie Thomas for a two-run double to left-center field.

With Thomas standing on second, senior Rolfe lifted to center a long fly ball which dribbled over the fence off a Branford fielder’s mitt for a two-run home run and an early 4-0 Chiefland advantage.

Rolfe sensed she was due for one to fall her way.

“This year, I’ve had a lot of balls hit the fence and bounce back in,” said the senior left fielder, who leads the Lady Indians with 17 walks. “When I saw that she almost robbed it, I got a little nervous.

“I feel like I had it tonight,” she added. “I felt very relieved and happy and ready to play.”

More offense would come, but that initial burst of run support was all Durrance would need.

Her only hiccup on the night came in the second when she hit back-to-back Buccaneers. Beyond that, the right-hander didn’t allow another baserunner in the game, while fanning six and allowing just one batted ball to the outfield.

The Lady Indians were sharp on defense as well, aided by an early catch at the fence by third baseman Erika Gilliam and a grab toward the first-base hole by Parks on a liner.

Parks (3 for 4), Hallman (3 for 4, two runs, two RBI) and Rolfe (3 for 3, three runs, three RBI) continued to flourish at the plate with three hits apiece.

After CMHS tacked on two more runs in the third on a two-run hit by Karlie Meeks (2 for 3, three RBI), scoring Rolfe (single) and Gilliam (single), Hallman led off the bottom of the fourth with a solo blast over the fence in left-center field.

It was the second home run of the season for the standout catcher.

“I went up there thinking, ‘This one’s mine,’ said Hallman, whose quick hands help her track pitches up in the zone. “I just felt like it was time.”

The hits continued to pour in for CMHS in the inning, including doubles by star shortstop Takiya London, Rolfe and Hallman in her second at-bat in the inning. Parks, Parker, Meeks and Aleaha Rhoomes also added hits in the frame as Chiefland sent 11 batters to the plate for six runs.

Meeks finished the night 2 for 3 with three RBI and Parker joined the multi-hit brigade with a 2-for-4 line. It was Parks and Hallman’s 12th multi-hit game on the season, and Parker’s 11th.

“It was a whole team effort tonight rather than one or two taking the whole team,” said CMHS coach Wayne Weatherford, who’s led the Lady Indians to all eight of their state playoff appearances. “Hopefully, this is a peak time for us.”

It was the Lady Indians’ second consecutive two-home run game, as London and Gilliam each had one in the season finale at Fort White.

Trenton dispatched No. 3 seed Bell 20-0 in three inning in the other semifinal. The Lady Tigers and Indians split their pair of regular season meetings, with each winning on the road, and face good odds to meet for a fourth time in the regional finals on May 9.

“Hopefully, we’ll go into Friday’s game (against Trenton) with a good attitude and wanting to beat them as bad as they wanted to beat Bell,” Weatherford said, “because Trenton was all over Bell.”

While Weatherford is looking to go out on a high note -- he recently announced he’s stepping down as coach at the end of the season -- he’s emphasized that whatever happens this postseason won’t take away from the immense accomplishments the program and many of its current players have achieved.

“We have nothing to lose, we’ve already won three state championships,” he said after the semifinal win. “We want to win the district championship, but if we don’t we know we’re going to advance and who knows, we might see them down the road if we lose to them on Friday.

“But we’re going to give them all we got. I think we’ll be prepared.”