Wednesday’s Class 1A North Region I softball final between South Carroll and Liberty was an emotional roller coaster. Each side had its ups and downs as the lead went back and forth.
Through it all, the visiting Cavaliers never wavered, staying just as upbeat when they were behind as they were in front.
When the final fly ball began dropping toward shortstop Hailey Wolfrey’s glove, the emotions were ready to hit another level.
“I was like, ‘We got it in the bag. I got this pop up. It’s over,’” she said.
Wolfrey secured the final out in South Carroll’s 7-3 win over Liberty, setting off a team celebration.
“I’m just ecstatic,” Wolfrey said. “Last year we won regionals. I think doing it again is hard, and we pulled it off.”
Wolfrey put the game’s first run on the board with a home run in the third inning. However, Liberty responded with two runs in the fourth and a home run from Kaelin Ault in the fifth to pull ahead.
But just because the Cavaliers were down on the scoreboard doesn’t mean they were down in spirit.
“Focus, it’s all about focus,” South Carroll junior Maddie Karns said. “I think we did a very good job today with that. When we were down, we weren’t down in our heads. We knew there was plenty of game left to come back. ... We wanted it more than they did.”
“That’s something they’ve learned throughout the season, just keep fighting,” South Carroll coach Kayla Holston said. “You fight until that last out is called. We’ve been down and we’ve been up. They knew what to do.”
Sydney O’Clery started South Carroll’s sixth inning by beating out a bunt single. Wolfrey and Hailey Medrano followed with singles, the latter driving in O’Clery. Wolfrey scored the tying run on a double steal.
The whole time, the South Carroll dugout was alive with emotion on every play.
“If we’re not into the game, we’re not going to win,” Wolfrey said. “We have to be up on the fence and be cheering and be loud. And make sure that we get into their heads. Once we get into their heads, it’s our game, not theirs.”
The loudest moment was still to come.
With two outs, Liberty could’ve escaped the inning with the score tied and the heart of its order coming up. But Sam Rice had other ideas. She blasted the first pitch she saw over the center field fence, her second home run in as many days, this one putting her team ahead late in the regional final.
“I was just really excited. That was my second home run over the fence and my second home run in a row since I got one last game,” Rice said. “I was so excited and I felt so proud of myself because I’ve been working on my swing all season. I finally learned how to get it down.”
She said she got some last-minute advice that proved helpful.
“I was looking for [a pitch] high outside,” she said. “I heard one of my teammates say, ‘Watch outside.’ So I was looking outside and it just felt so natural.”
South Carroll tacked on two more insurance runs in the sixth, but Karns didn’t need much support the way she was pitching. Holston called it the best game Karns has pitched all season. She held a Liberty team that scored 34 runs in its first two playoff games to three hits.
But she wouldn’t say how she did it.
“It’s a secret,” Karns said, laughing after her eight-strikeout effort. “Just hitting my spots, my location and getting up in the count. If you get up in the count you get in the batter’s head and then you can get strikeouts and easy outs.”
Liberty got Ault’s home run, a double and triple from Erin Martin and an RBI fielder’s choice from Leyla Hoffman. But for the most part, there was little the Lions could do against Karns.
“Obviously we didn’t do what we expected to do at the plate,” Liberty coach Chris Szocik said. “Their pitcher did a nice job, she seemed to be way up for the game. They played well and hit just enough. Just wasn’t our day. We been hitting lately, today we just had an off hitting day. Part of that of course is a credit to their pitcher.”
South Carroll advances to the 1A state quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Friday at St. Michael’s.