CLOVER — The Lady Blue Eagle softball team lost 7-1 to Byrnes in the Upper State championship series.
After Elizabeth Edmund’s run-scoring single knotted the score at 1 in the top of the fourth, the Lady Rebels pushed across five runs in the fifth inning, sealing the win and the Upstate title.
To get to the title game, the Blue Eagles defeated Northwestern 7-3 and Mauldin 3-1, both on the road.
Northwestern finished the regular season unbeaten and ranked as high as No. 3 in the state. The Mauldin Mavericks entered the 4A playoffs ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 7 in the nation.
Trailing Northwestern 3-0 in the top of the fifth, the Blue Eagles got on the board when Brittany Rhinehardt doubled home Katie Robinson, who had doubled to open the inning.
After Blake Wallert reached on an error to open the sixth, Marisa Harkey’s two-run homer, a line drive shot, tied the score at 3-3.
The Clover bats came alive when the extra inning game reached the eighth.
Brooke Rhinehardt reached on an infield hit, advancing to second on a well-placed bunt by Wallert.
Harkey singled home Brooke Rhinehardt, advancing to second on the throw to the plate.
Later, with runners at second and third, Robinson, a freshman recovering from ankle surgery, belted a three-run homer.
Edmunds, whose nasty off-speed pitches complemented her live fastball, retired the side to pick up the win. In addition, the CHS hurler speared three line drives to quell potential Northwestern scoring opportunities.
“When my teammates scored the runs, it took pressure off me,” Edmunds said. “I was able to settle down and throw my pitches.”
Robinson, whose power surge included two doubles and a home run, spoke with confidence after the game.
“Hitting the home run was a great feeling,” she said. “I’ve worked hard to battle back from ankle surgery.”
Said Harkey, known by the nickname of Hammerin’ Harkey, of her timely homerun: “I don’t usually hit change-ups well, but I was able to hit it out of the park.”
Head coach Shea Hall lauded the players.
“We felt left out not winning the region and beat Northwestern when it mattered,” she said. “Elizabeth pitched well and Katie had the big hit, returning to the team after surgery.”
Hall said she thought about going to the mound and talking to the players when Clover was battling through a tough inning.
“Brooke Rhinehardt called time and led a team meeting around the mound,” said Hall “Everything was OK.”
The Blue Eagles built a 2-0 lead in the third in the win over Mauldin, with Brittany Rhinehardt’s RBI-single putting Clover on the board. Later, Wallert’s ground ball scored Hannah Curtis, who had reached on a walk.
The Blue Eagles added an insurance run in the fourth when freshman Michelle Aragon singled home Curtis.
Another freshman, second-baseman Kailey Carpenter, made a great catch of a screaming liner, robbing Mauldin of a scoring opportunity.
“I knew I had to knock it down and ended up making the catch,” said Carpenter. “I want to contribute more to the team.”
Said Hall: “The kids are playing with swagger once again. It was a big win for our program. Elizabeth had more strikeouts than the Maldin’s pitcher, who is considered one of the best in the state.”
Pausing to reflect on the season, Hall said the team’s three seniors, the Rhinehardt twins and Morgan Graves, will be missed.
“Morgan is a right-fielder who’s been used as a designated player,” she said.
“As for Brooke and Brittany Rhinehardt, you can’t replace what they’ve meant to our program,” said the CHS coach.
Batting first and second in the lineup, the twins are solid contact hitters. Brittany roams center-field like few can and Brooke has been rock solid behind the plate, filling a critical void.
While there are voids to fill for next season, Hall said she knows there are difference-makers returning, among them Edmunds, Wallert and Harkey, a long ball threat every time she steps to the plate.
“We played freshmen on the right side of the infield this season,” Hall said.