The Warriors survived a thrilling bottom half of the seventh inning to hold on for their second FHSAA Class 9A State Championship in as many years.
VERO BEACH The end result was the same — as was the location — but the way the West Orange High School softball team won the 2017 FHSAA Class 9A State Championship could not have been more different from the one it won in 2016.
In 2016, the Warriors took the field in the top of the seventh inning at Historic Dodgertown with a cushy 6-0 lead that eventually became the final score against Tampa’s Alonso High.
This time around, though, West Orange led by just one run when Palm Harbor came up for its final at-bat in the bottom of the seventh inning. With one out, the Hurricanes got one baserunner aboard — and then another. And then another.
Suddenly, the tying run was on third base and the winning run for Palm Harbor was on second.
“I was shaking in the outfield, but I had confidence in Lo (Lauren Mathis) — I knew she was going to do her job,” left-fielder Lexie Blair said.
From there, it was up to Mathis, the team’s senior ace.
First, Mathis got a strikeout for the second out. Then, with two outs and two strikes, a line drive landed in the glove of senior shortstop Amanda Fleming — completing a 1-0 victory — and the Warriors (28-3) were champions again.
“It got a little hairy there, because they were starting to time (Mathis) up,” head coach Todd LaNeave said. “But — she’s still tough to hit. … If anybody was going to get it done, Lauren Mathis was going to get it done. She got the big strikeout and then the line drive to our senior short stop.”
For Mathis, who is signed to play her college softball at the University of Georgia, it was her second complete-game shutout in a state championship game in as many years — and one memorable way to end her varsity career.
“I could not have been more happy — to be honest, it was all a blur,” Mathis said. “I just turned around and remember throwing my glove down and running to my catcher (Maggie Wheless) and hugging her.”
Throughout the night West Orange struggled to hit Palm Harbor’s Savanna Bennett. The only run of the game came as the Warriors were making their way through the order for the third time, in the top of the sixth.
Blair led-off with a triple and, with one out, senior Morgan Arcia came up and hit the most important sacrifice fly of her varsity career.
“I just had to make sure I got it to the right side, deep enough for Lexie to come in,” Arcia.
It was — and Blair did — and that would prove to be the extent of the scoring for the game.
As West Orange players, coaches and families celebrated the team’s second-straight championship — the program’s third, overall — it was a euphoric occasion.
“It means the world to us,” Arcia said. “It’s a great feeling to go back-to-back, do it all again and to be here with everyone.”
For game photos from the 2017 FHSAA Class 9A State Championship, go HERE.
For photos from the postgame celebration, go HERE.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].