Softball: Wheless' walkoff lifts Warriors past Lake Brantley, into regional final
West Orange's Maggie Wheless drove in Kalie Romig for the game-winning run Tuesday night. With the 2-1 victory, the Warriors will now travel to Spruce Creek Friday for the regional final.
| 10:12 p.m. April 26, 2016
WINTER GARDEN Maggie Wheless has probably never run quite as fast as she ran to first base during her final at-bat Tuesday night.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Warriors' catcher came to the plate with her team knotted up at 1-1 with Lake Brantley in the Class 9A Regional Semifinals. Teammate Kalie Romig stood 60 feet away at third base, representing the winning run.
Wheless put the ball in play, sending a grounder toward the hole between the Patriots' shortstop and third baseman. When the shortstop made an impressive, backhanded stab and set her feet to throw to first, the junior catcher put her head down and sprinted with all her might for the bag — arriving just ahead of the throw, which came in high.
The next thing Wheless knew, her teammates were sprinting full speed at her to celebrate the Warriors' 2-1 victory — and another trip to the regional finals.
"Honestly, I'm not the fastest runner," Wheless said with a laugh afterward. "She (the Lake Brantley shortstop) made a great play and I just had to run it out and take the best leaps I could."
If Wheless was the hero Tuesday night, junior pitcher Lauren Mathis was once again a workhorse on the mound for West Orange (27-1). Facing the Patriots for the fourth time this season, Mathis had allowed just one hit and no runs leading up to the seventh inning. That's when Lake Brantley's Allie Rininger broke through for the Patriots, belting a solo home run to left field to keep her team alive for the time being.
It was just the third earned run Mathis had surrendered all season.
"It's very tough because they'd seen me three times before," Mathis said of the task at hand Tuesday. "You really have to focus on hitting your spots and I already knew they were disciplined against the rise-ball."
Mathis' effort was particularly impressive considering the run support from the Warriors' offense was slow to materialize. Morgan Arcia drove in Jade Caraway in the third inning, but West Orange left a total of 12 runners on base Tuesday night — including a failure to convert three times with bases loaded.
The hope for head coach Todd LaNeave is that the Warriors got whatever they needed to out of their system and will be ready for Friday night, when they will travel to take on Spruce Creek in the Class 9A, Region 1 Championship.
"We're going to talk about that a little bit," LaNeave said. "Hopefully the girls will be ready for the challenge come Friday."