West Orange softball partied like it was 1994, winning the program's second state championship May 7 in Vero Beach.
VERO BEACH Three outs away from the FHSAA Class 9A State Championship, the West Orange softball team gathered outside of its dugout along the third base line at Historic Dodgertown.
The girls broke the huddle by cheering the team’s motto for the season, a one-word creed that it had adopted months earlier in anticipation of that very moment: Finish.
And, three outs later, the Warriors had done just that. Junior pitcher Lauren Mathis’ 15th strikeout of the night concluded a 6-0 victory over Tampa’s Alonso High in the Class 9A State Championship Game May 7.
The program’s second state title came just seven days ahead of the 22nd anniversary of former coach Marge Ricker’s squad topping Cooper City 8-3 on May 14, 1994 — winning the school’s first team championship of any kind.
Appropriately, the ensuing celebration befit a tradition-rich program that was past due to hoist the state’s most prestigious hardware.
“You imagine (winning a state championship) and you think about it all the time,” senior Jade Caraway said. “You come out here and fight for it and it just feels unreal — I still can’t believe it right now.”
As has been the case all season, Mathis was dominant on the mound for the Warriors (30-1) and — as has been the case all season — a piece of timely hitting got things going for coach Todd LaNeave’s team.
With two runners on and two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, sophomore outfielder Lexie Blair stroked the biggest hit of her young career, driving in both runners to break open the scoreless game, giving West Orange a lead it would not relinquish.
“You come out here and fight for it and it just feels unreal — I still can’t believe it right now.”
Jade Caraway, senior outfielder
“(Blair) is just clutch,” LaNeave said. “She did the same thing against Spruce Creek (in the regional championship April 29). Late in the game, we got the runners in scoring position and she comes up with the big hit.”
And, though Blair had indeed come up big in an eerily similar at-bat just eight days earlier, that did not mean it was not a pressure-filled experience as the underclassman stepped to the plate.
“It’s the same feeling each time — I still get nervous, but I still know the job I need to do,” Blair said. “The adrenaline that was rushing through me, that’s what got me my base hit.”
Caraway joined Blair in driving in a pair of runs for the Warriors, with the senior center fielder’s RBIs coming as part of a three-run sixth inning.
Senior Sam Golden and catcher Maggie Wheless also drove in runs for West Orange.
Of course, with the way Mathis was throwing on the mound — allowing just three hits to go with her 15 strikeouts — it’s debatable that anything more than original two runs Blair drove in were necessary.
Fittingly enough, it was the Warriors’ ace who recorded the final out of the team’s championship season.
“I’m sitting there … and wondering ‘how’s this game going to end?’” LaNeave said. “And I think everybody knew that it was going to be a strikeout.”
For her part, Mathis leapt into the air and sent her glove flying skyward as the game went final — at least, after a moment’s hesitation as the gravity of the moment set in.
“It really took a second for me to process that we did it,” Mathis said. “This was our goal since the very beginning and (that moment) was just so many emotions at once. I threw my glove up in the air and I had to celebrate with my team.”
For more photos from Saturday's game, go HERE.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].