by: Troy Herring Sports Editor, Orange Observer
When Madison Carr stepped up to the plate in the top of the 11th inning of the Class 3A, Region 1 final Friday, May 14, all eyes were on her. With Gracie Wallace on second following a double to center field, this was Windermere Prep’s chance to strike in a game that had largely been a pitcher’s duel all night between the dominant Wallace and TFA’s ace pitcher Hannah Harper. A well-placed ball could put the Lakers back on top and possibly push them into the state semifinal.
As Harper’s pitch approached the plate, Carr leaned back and struck with confidence — sending a screamer into centerfield and bringing in Wallace to give the Lakers (24-1) a 4-3 lead in a moment that brought an explosion of noise from the dugout and visitor’s bleachers. It would also prove to be the hit that would make history, as it ultimately ended up being the go-ahead run that would give the program its first regional title and state semifinal berth.
As hugs were handed out and tears shed, head coach Wes Pollock walked around with a grin, as he held up four fingers — signifying where the Lakers’ next stop was going to be.
“I can’t tell you what it has done for the school — it has put Windermere Prep on the map,” Pollock said. “Windermere Prep has been OK over the years in softball, but never to this degree. These girls are a special group.”
A HEAVY-WEIGHT BOUT
Coming into Friday night’s game Pollock knew this regional final would be a low-scoring affair. For his Lakers Wallace had been lights out all season, and had accrued a 23-1 record, an ERA under 1.00 and 285 strikeouts through 143 innings — which accounted for all but one inning played this year. Meanwhile, for the Royals (20-7), Harper had recorded 194 strikeouts and held an ERA of 1.32 through 153.2 innings of work. Through most of the game the pitching prowess of both held up, though there were shaky moments that would occur here and there.
In the first inning Madison Workman singled on a line drive to right, scoring Carr — who got on base earlier thanks to an error by TFA second baseman Mollie Duling — and giving the Lakers the early 1-0 lead. The Lakers would later put runs on the board in back-to-back innings in the fifth and sixth, when Ariana Lara scored on a groundout by Zoe Pistel to bump the lead to 2-0 in the fifth, before an RBI-single by Wallace scored Emma Turiano to go up 3-0 in the sixth. Despite Wallace getting into some trouble in the game — she walked four and hit four batters — she was able to mostly work herself out of jams when they arose, except in the sixth and seventh. After largely snuffing out TFA’ offense, the Royals put one on the board when Duling scored on a sac fly from Rachel Sheridan, and then — as if a switch was hit — the momentum shifted.
With a runner on and only two outs left in the seventh to save their season, Camille Mackedon stepped up to the plate and absolutely hammered a ball over the left field wall to tie the game at 3-3 to the vociferous cheers of the home-side fans. It was a moment that Wallace knew she had to take control of. “I was just like, ‘I’m not losing, I came here to win and I’m going to do whatever I can to win,’” Wallace said. “So I just tried to stay in it, and hoped my team would stay in it, and they did.” Wallace would get through the inning with no more damage done.
As the mood change could be felt around TFA’s Payne Stewart Athletic Complex, Pollock took his girls aside and reminded them that it took mental toughness for them to get to this point, and they were going to need that from here on out. “I’ve said all year we’ve worked on our mental toughness,” Pollock said. “We dodged another major bullet, but we’ve been dodging bullets through the regular season and the playoffs — we don't wither, we don't cave. It was definitely disappointing, and the momentum did definitely shift, but I asked them to build a wall … and nothing else goes through it.”
His team buckled down, and brought Pollock’s words to fruition as the Lakers’ pitching, defense and hitting showed up when they needed it the most through the four-extra innings played. Outside of Carr’s big hit in the 11th, the biggest play of the game for the Lakers was had by outfielder Piper Hofmann in the bottom of the ninth, when she rocketed a perfect throw to Carr at home to get Katie Bennett out at the plate on what would have been the game-winning run for TFA.
FINAL FOUR AND BEYOND - For a program that prior to this year had never won a district championship — let alone a regional final — this season has been something special. Since their lone loss back in February to Berkeley Prep, Windermere Prep has not lost a single game as the Lakers are currently riding a 21-game win streak, and they don’t seem to be slowing down as they head into the state semis against Episcopal School of Jacksonville (23-5) Wednesday, May 19, at Legends Way Ball Fields in Clermont. Regardless of the outcome, Pollock’s team has offered him memories he’ll never forget, and a chance to help his girls build a legacy at the school, he said. “It means the world to them to get to the Final Four and now it’s anybody’s ballgame,” Pollock said. “It’s just been an incredible experience and a they’ve made it a special season for me as a coach, and I think it is memorable for Windermere Prep.” For the full article and pictures click here!
About the author - Troy Herring is the sports editor at the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Mount Olive (BS '12) and the University of Alabama (MA '16)....