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A legacy built to last

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Lady Indians fall short of fourth straight state title; leave behind historic resume

By Sean Arnold

Eighty-eight wins. Four state finals appearances. Three state championships. A 15-1 record in state tournament games.

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And too many individual accolades to count.

The Chiefland softball team came up one win short of its ultimate goal, a fourth state championship, but the Lady Indians can hold their heads high after a four-year run that might never be matched in any sport at any school of similar standing to Chiefland.

Six errors – and a lack of timely hits – proved costly for the team’s efforts in the Class 1A state title game against Union County (Lake Butler) last Thursday at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, as the Lady Tigers prevailed 5-1 to secure their first state championship.

It was the first state playoff loss the CMHS seniors have ever experienced.

Union County (24-2) defeated Chiefland (21-7) three times this year.

Chiefland teammates consoled one another through the tears.

“You don’t want to see it come to an end, especially for the girls, because they work so hard,” said CMHS head coach Wayne Weatherford, who is stepping down as coach of the Lady Indians. “And the parents, they take their kids from place to place, preparing them for this level.

“We’ve got to realize – and a lot of them don’t, I’m sure – this is the ultimate payoff. A lot kids don’t make it here. We’re very lucky to be where we are. These girls have friends who’ve never made it this far, have never won one state championship, let alone three, and shooting for four.”

UCHS jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a RBI double to deep left field by senior Devin Lewis (two RBI).

Chiefland answered in the top of the third on an Emily Hallman RBI double to deep right, scoring Sydney Parks, before the Tigers tacked on a couple more off a pair of CMHS errors in the bottom-half of the frame, putting Union County back in front 3-1.

Parks led Chiefland at the plate in going 2 for 3 with a walk while scoring the team’s sole run.

Five of Union County’s runs were unearned by sophomore pitcher Kensley Durrance, as the Lady Tigers employed their signature small-ball style.

“I told somebody today we like to play fast, we’re a fast team,” UCHS coach Andrew Stickland said.” We want to utilize that speed and keep constant pressure on you. Speed doesn’t slump.”

Chiefland third baseman Erika Gilliam injured her arm while falling on a play in the sixth, forcing left fielder Samantha Rolfe move to third, where she got a putout on the game’s ensuing play.

Senior Takiya London was strong at shortstop for Chiefland, and senior right fielder Aleaha Rhoomes made a sliding grab to save a run in the third.

The Lady Indians escaped major potential trouble in the second, when Union County had runners on second and third with one out. Gilliam helped quell the would-be rally when she fielded a bunt, pump-faked to first, then gunned down a Tiger runner hanging off the third-base bag.

The Lady Indians loaded the bases with two outs to no avail in the fourth, and failed to score in the fifth despite Parks boarding on a walk to lead off the inning.

The Chiefland hitters made plenty of contact, striking out just twice in the game, while Parks posted the only walk for the club. It was the second-fewest walks the Lady Indians earned in a loss for the season.

Rolfe mashed a couple balls toward the right-field line, but Union County’s alignment was in perfect sync to make the plays, as it shifted its defense to the hitters’ right to account for Lexi Androlevich’s fastball.

“Lexi throws hard, so you don’t see very many balls pulled,” Stickland said.

Gilliam joined Parks and Hallman for the team’s other hit.

Both pitchers allowed four hits and fanned a couple. Durrance walked a pair, hit one batter and yielded just the one earned run.

Union County advanced to the finals on a come-from-behind victory over Chipley with three runs in the seventh. Junior Brooke Waters picked up the win in the circle with 6.1 innings of work in the semifinal.

“We have the best pitching staff in 1A softball, and we proved it,” Strickland said. “We came in yesterday and put our other No. 1 pitcher in the circle and she shut ‘em down. And we went back to Lexi today, and she did her typical stuff.”

Only three programs in Florida have won more consecutive state championships than the Lady Indians, and only eight have won more overall. All of those schools are either private or have boasted a much larger enrollment than Chiefland. It’s the only small, rural school to have accomplished its championship feats.

“They’ve got all those records they’ve already broke, the only thing we can’t say is we won four state championships,” Weatherford said. “I’m not ashamed in any of them. I feel like every one of these girls gave 110 percent.

“Lake Butler, they’re a good team,” he added. “You’re always going to find someone a little bit better than you are, and that’s how it was today.”

The Lady Indians averaged a 22-4 record over the last four years.

“It happens and it’s okay,” CMHS coach Jimmy Anderson told an emotional group of players in the moments following the loss, reminding them of the heartbreak that’s been on the other end of so many Chiefland playoff wins.

“You played your butts off.”

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