The host Warriors defeated visiting Spruce Creek 2-0 in the FHSAA Class 9A Regional Final Friday behind, Lauren Mathis' complete-game shutout and a two-run double from Lexie Blair.
WINTER GARDEN For a program with as much tradition as that of the West Orange softball team, it's hard to imagine that there are many "firsts" left to accomplish.
But, with their 2-0 win over Spruce Creek Friday evening in the FHSAA Class 9A Region 1 Final, the Warriors found one — the victory sends West Orange to the Final Four in consecutive years for the first time in program history.
"It feels amazing," junior outfielder Lexie Blair said. "It's a lot more meaningful to go back to the Final Four knowing that we're making history."
Blair played a significant role in the historical feat for the Warriors (26-3). The Michigan commit doubled in the Warriors' only two runs with two outs in the bottom of the second inning, in what turned out to be the game's biggest moment.
"She does that — last year, when we needed that big hit, she always came up with it," head coach Todd LaNeave said. "She got a ball up and she got on top off it, put it down and got us two runs. The clutchness that she has is ridiculous."
Though Blair says she enjoys the opportunity to make plays in tense moments, she also says that consistency in her approach is the key.
"I knew I had to do my job," Blair said. "I wasn't trying to do anything big — I was just trying to put the ball in play."
On the mound, senior ace Lauren Mathis was nearly flawless against Spruce Creek, earning the complete-game victory for West Orange.
"That's the best I've seen her throw since the Oakleaf game," LaNeave said. "Some of her last outings were good, but this one is the best one I've seen (in a while)."
As has often been the case, the West Orange defense backed up Mathis well and made some key plays. Included among those was an impressive catch by senior catcher Maggie Wheless that helped the Warriors to not surrender in any runs in the top of the fifth, after Spruce Creek had put runners on the corners with one out.
At bat, the two runs West Orange scored were enough, but it is likely that the Warriors left a few more out there after loading the bases in the first and leaving runners stranded on a couple more occasions. Against a stout Spruce Creek defense, though, LaNeave said the important thing was that runners were getting aboard, in the first place.
"We were getting baserunners and at least giving ourselves a chance," LaNeave said.
West Orange will play in the FHSAA Class 9A State Semifinals at 6:35 p.m. May 19 in Vero Beach. The Warriors will face the winner of a regional final between Coral Gables and Palmetto. For updated brackets, visit FHSAA.org.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].